Islamist Militancy in Egypt
Increased instability and terrorist attacks in Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, resulting in a military crackdown
Egypt’s military campaign against Wilayat Sinai (formerly Ansar Beit al-Maqdis) in the Sinai Peninsula has intensified since it declared allegiance to self-proclaimed Islamic State in November 2014. In October 2015, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for downing a Russian airplane in response to Russia’s fight against the Islamic State in Syria. The previous year, the group carried out the largest terrorist attack in Egypt since 2005, with two attacks in the Sinai Peninsula killing thirty-one soldiers. In May 2016, an EgyptAir flight crashed in the Mediterranean flying from Paris, though the cause of the crash has not yet been determined.
The rate of terrorist attacks by Wilayat Sinai and other Islamist militants has been rapidly growing. Militants also carried out separate attacks at prime tourist destinations near the pyramids in Giza and the Karnak Temple in Luxor that same month. In July 2015, Wilayat Sinai launched an assault on the Egyptian military and government sites in northern Sinai near Egypt’s border with Gaza and Israel, resulting in the deaths of at least seventeen Egyptian soldiers and one hundred militants.
Incidents of terrorist attacks in Egypt are the highest they have been since the 1990s. Known then as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the group emerged as a terrorist organization in the Sinai following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The insurgency was then intensified by political instability and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood following the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.
Ansar Beit and other Islamist militants were primarily focused on attacking Egyptian security forces in retaliation for the government crackdown on Islamist groups, but have since expanded to attacking civilians on the metro, outside of the foreign ministry building, and near Cairo University. Militants also assassinated Egypt’s Chief Prosecutor Hisham Barakat in June 2015—the first major government figure to be killed since 2013.
The intense military campaign led by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has targeted the insurgency in the Sinai and near the Gaza Strip. The military has bulldozed hundreds of homes in Rafah on the border with Gaza because of suspicions that Hamas is supplying the Sinai militants with weapons and other supplies. Sisi has also sought to tamp down on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, labelling the group a terrorist organization in December 2013.
There is a general concern about how the Sinai Peninsula could become another sanctuary for the Islamic State to carry out operations throughout the Middle East. Wilayat Sinai could help facilitate other attacks in Egypt as well, adding to political instability in the country. Its existence also poses a threat to Israel, which shares a border with the Sinai region and has on several occasions intercepted rockets from the region.
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