January 2018 – JERUSALEM — The extremist Islamic State group’s branch in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has taken a simmering dispute with the Palestinian Hamas group based in nearby Gaza to new levels, releasing a 22-minute video in which it calls on its followers to attack the group and shows the execution of a man it said was a collaborator.
Analysts say the escalation has the potential to destabilize an already fragile security situation in Gaza, the Palestinian enclave that Hamas has controlled for the past decade.
“Never surrender to them. Use explosives, silenced pistols, and sticky bombs. Bomb their courts and their security locations, for these are the pillars of tyranny that prop up its throne,” says the knife-wielding narrator of the video, according to a translation distributed by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites.
The video cites Hamas’s crackdown on Islamist militant groups in Gaza and their failure to prevent the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as reasons for attacking the group. It begins with a video clip of President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem last month.
In response to President Trump’s recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya urged Palestinians Dec. 7 to resist in Israel.
The confrontation between the two militant groups has been building for more than a year, as Hamas has cracked down on Islamic State supporters in Gaza and hardened its border with the Sinai region in an attempt to repair relations with Egypt.
Although it is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, Hamas has been trying to mend ties with neighboring Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and analysts say it has tried to avoid direct confrontation with Israel in recent years. The Islamic State in Sinai has an altogether more radical approach and carried out a recent attack on an Egyptian mosque that killed more than 300 people. In the video, it criticized Hamas for “following in the footsteps of the disbelieving West.”
The Islamic State probably lacks the reach into Gaza it would need to launch a large-scale attack, but it could encourage its supporters to launch more rockets into Israel, knowing that Israel’s military will respond against Hamas, which it holds responsible for all military aggression from Gaza, according to Mohannad Sabry, the author of “Sinai: Egypt’s Linchpin, Gaza’s Lifeline, Israel’s Nightmare.”
“It achieves the same goal,” he said.
In the video, the man accused of collaborating with Hamas’s military wing is executed by another who is described as a former member who has repented.
“A small spark may force one or both parties to engage in military confrontation,” said Hani Habib, a Gaza-based political analyst.
In the background, the narrator accuses Hamas of “betraying” Palestinians and the Muslims for allowing such a move to happen:
The apostate gang of Hamas took advantage of the great place that Allah had made for al-Aqsa inside the very heart of the Islamic Ummah, to achieve its own political party interests even if the price for those filthy worldly interests was the blood of the Muslims, and that the Al Aqsa issue…was neglected and forgotten. All until this senile hallucinating crusader dared to announce Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish statelet.
Featured in the video is Abu Kadhim al-Maqdisi, the ISIS Sharia judge in ISIS Sinai Province, who condemns Hamas as “the disbeliever party in Gaza” and “worshippers of their own interests.”
It also responds to Hamas crack-downs on ISIS supporters in Gaza, criticized Hamas’ ties with Egypt (and tightening of the border with Sinai), and Hamas relationship with the Iranians, Hezbollah, and other Shiite entities.
In the closing segment of the video, Abu Kadhim issues a fatwa[religious edict] announcing that shedding the blood of Hamas members is permissible, and urges attacks on the group’s members and interests:
Repel their assault, and respond to their aggression. Never surrender to them. Use explosives, silenced pistols and bombs. Bomb their courts and their security locations, for these are the pillars of tyranny that prop up its throne. Fight the followers of Satan, for the plots of Satan are weak. Do not spare any cursed Rafidha [Shiite] in Gaza or any Christian disbeliever, insolent atheist, or apostate Brotherhood member.
ISIS doubled down on its declaration of war against Hamas, showing the sadistic execution of an alleged Hamas’ military wing Izza Deen al-Qassam fighter.
But this video shook the global jihadi community. Jihadists not aligned with ISIS condemned its execution of a “mujahid” (holy warrior) while bashing ISIS as “the Khawarij [renegade] dogs of hellfire in Sinai,” and wishing, “may Allah avenge his blood.”
The jihadists were equally astounded by the ISIS videos denunciation of Ahmed Yassin, a Hamas spiritual leader and founder, as “an apostate infidel.” This is no small statement to make: After Yassin was assassinated by Israeli forces in March 2004, Osama bin Laden himself vowed to avenge his killing.
November 24, 2017 – CAIRO — Militants set off a blast and gunned down fleeing worshipers at a packed mosque in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula on Friday, killing at least 235 people in the deadliest single assault on civilians by suspected Islamist extremists in Egypt’s recent history.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which survivors described as a sophisticated, terrifying and unprecedented assault on a mosque that was frequented by Sufi Muslims: an attack planned, it appeared, to ensure that none of the worshipers survived.
Egyptian security forces have struggled for years against an Islamic State affiliate based in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police and military personnel in an insurgency against the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. The government has worked to keep that war in the shadows, preventing journalists from accessing Sinai or the towns there that have become battlegrounds, amid frequent reports of militant atrocities and heavy-handed tactics by the army.
But the dangers of the conflict were impossible to conceal Friday, as the rising death toll was announced in grim updates on state television and Egyptians mourned the largest loss of life from a militant attack in decades. It surpassed the number of dead in the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai in 2015 that was claimed by Islamic State-linked militants.
As condolence calls poured in from world leaders, Sissi spoke on television, vowing that Egypt’s armed forces would respond with “brute force.”
“We cannot be intimidated,” he said. “Our will cannot be broken.” After the attack, Egypt’s military carried out airstrikes in northern Sinai concentrated in mountainous areas around the mosque, according to the Reuters news agency.
Egypt’s militants have targeted Coptic Christian churches in the past, but strikes against mosques have been rare in recent years. Nonetheless, orthodox Sunni Muslims and militant factions consider Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, to be heretical, and last year Egyptian Islamist militants beheaded an elderly Sufi cleric in the northern Sinai.
The exact reason for the attack on the mosque, called al-Rawda, remained unclear. That the attack occurred near the town of Bir al-Abd, an area dotted with security outposts, underscored the ability of militants to strike at the heart of government-protected zones.
The assault also had the hallmarks of a highly coordinated operation. More than two-dozen militants arrived at the mosque in several four-wheel-drive vehicles, according to officials and survivors. The attack started when one of the militants, a suicide bomber, detonated his explosives during the Friday sermon. The other militants — who fanned out around the mosque — gunned down panicked worshipers as they fled, according to Moemen Sharawy, whose relatives were at the mosque during the assault.
Two of Sharawy’s uncles were killed in the attack, including Fathy el-Tanany, 62, who led the call to prayer at the mosque, he said.
September 15, 2017 – CAIRO — Egyptian security forces are finding themselves increasingly bogged down in their four-year fight against an Islamic State affiliate in the northern Sinai Peninsula, despite billions of dollars in U.S. counterterrorism aid. The struggle has cost the lives of hundreds of police officers and soldiers, including at least 20 in the past week.
On Monday, at least 18 policemen were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near their security convoy. The attack, near the heavily patrolled North Sinai provincial capital of Arish, was followed by clashes as other militants opened fire, a military spokesman said.
The Islamic State affiliate, known as Wilayat Sinai, asserted responsibility for the attack, claiming that the bomber “plunged himself into six of their vehicles and blasted his car.” The militants also destroyed several military vehicles, as well an ambulance and a firetruck.
Two days later, two soldiers were killed in a gun battle after militants staged a failed assault on a security checkpoint in North Sinai, a military spokesman said. Again, the Islamic State asserted responsibility.
“We see this attack that is supposedly in a completely secure area, and it claims 18 lives,” said Mohannad Sabry, the author of a book on the Islamist insurgency in Sinai. “It’s a signal that things are still not really under control.”
Similar violence has unfolded every few weeks in recent months, underscoring the insurgency’s resilience, as well as its ability to mount complex, multilayered attacks using the local terrain to its advantage.
Since July 2013, at least 1,000 members of the security forces have been killed in terrorist attacks across the restive Sinai Peninsula, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. In 2017, more than 200 members of the security forces have been killed there.
Wilayat Sinai alone has claimed more than 800 attacks across Egypt since its pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State in November 2014, said Nancy Okail, the Tahrir Institute’s executive director. Egyptian security forces, she added, have killed more than 2,500 suspected terrorists in operations in Sinai since 2013, although unofficial numbers reported by local media are significantly higher.
Although there have been fewer terrorist attacks this year than last, the number of fatalities has risen, Okail said. That suggests the militants are planning their operations more strategically and with the intent of creating maximum carnage, according to analysts.
With the Islamic State nearing defeat in Iraq and Syria, its affiliates are asserting themselves in other parts of the world, from North Africa to Afghanistan to the Philippines. The militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has penetrated the mountains of Tunisia and maintains a robust presence in Libya, despite the loss of its stronghold of Sirte last year.
In northern Sinai, Islamic State-linked militants are leading the Islamist insurgency launched in the summer of 2013 after Egypt’s military overthrew the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi. The coup was led by the current president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and the insurgency’s stated goal is to topple his government.
The Islamic State has also increasingly targeted Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up roughly 10 percent of the country’s 94 million people. The tactic appears designed to sow further division, turning Egyptians against the Sissi government, which has failed to protect the minority community.
In 2015, the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai asserted responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane after it took off from the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. That attack, which killed all 224 people aboard, hit Egypt’s economy hard; Russia halted civilian flights to the country, and Britain and other nations stopped airlines from flying to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Monday’s attack came two months after Islamic State militants killed at least 23 soldiers at a remote outpost near Rafah, the Egyptian town bordering the Gaza Strip, in the deadliest attack on security forces in two years.