Dozens of Coptic families have fled North Sinai as jihadist attacks against Christians grow in number. Simultaneously, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis fired missiles across the border into Israel, prompting an Israeli response that killed several Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis operatives in Egypt, and security forces launched a new sweep of Gabal Al-Halal, a notorious militant hideout.According to sources interviewed, the connection is clear. It is reinforced, they say, by the growing role played by Gaza jihadists in the leadership of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, a role they claim is reflected in the ferocious campaign to discredit Cairo’s policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process, which has included leaks from the Aqaba summit and the spreading of rumours of a land exchange that would allow Palestinians to settle in Sinai.Analysts also believe the attacks against Copts are part of an attempt to place Egypt in an awkward situation internationally. The recent incidents occurred in tandem with a number of high-profile visits — of the British foreign secretary and the German chancellor — and ahead of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s upcoming visit to the US.The idea of “correspondence” between radical Islamist organisations begs the question of Muslim Brotherhood involvement.A security source points to the resemblance between the video claiming responsibility for the bombing of St Peter’s Church in December and the video posted on Al-Nabaa calling for attacks against Copts. Both, he says, display “a distinct Brotherhood tone perceptible in the rhetorical details suggesting that the Brotherhood media machine or, more precisely, rebel factions within the Brotherhood such as Hasm and the Revolution Brigade, had a hand in its making”.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Tuesday that he had rejected an earlier plan to evacuate North Sinai of its residents to better combat Jihadists in the area. “Forty months ago, I received a plan to evacuate the entire North Sinai region to combat terrorism. My answer was ‘no,’ let the people live their lives and we will act like a surgeon who uses his scalpel to extract the tumor without harming the rest of the body”, the president said on Tuesday at the Presidential Leadership Program for youth. El-Sisi’s comments come as dozens of Christians have fled North Sinai over the past few days over attacks against Copts in the governorate. El-Sisi asserts that these latest attacks aim at spreading the idea that the state is failing to protect “a primary element” of the Egyptian nation. Last week, the Islamic State militant group called on its supporters to attack Christians across the country in a video where it claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a church in Cairo in December. Several days after the video was released, three Christians were murdered in El-Aris.
Following the unprecedented exodus of Coptic citizens from the North Sinai city of Al-Arish due to militants’ threats, the army official spokesperson said in a Facebook statement that forces managed on Monday to kill six militants and arrest 18 suspects in North Sinai in a sweeping operation. According to the statement, the operation targeted terrorists’ stationing points, which led to the discovery of two explosives-storages. “As a continuation to the armed efforts in eliminating terrorists’ stationing points, army forces located in North Sinai managed to kill six militants, arrest 18 suspects, discover two explosives’ storages, and destroy eight improvised explosive devices [IEDs]”, the statement read. Despite these efforts, the wave of violence and militant activity are on the rise. On Sunday, militants, who threatened to punish those who are not accompanied by a male relative, stopped a bus of female teachers in Rafah. The militants told the female teachers that not wearing a veil while going to their workplace and without the accompaniment of a male relative is considered a kind of apostasy. Meanwhile, other anonymous militants—believed to be members of Sinai Province—brought a civilian—suspected to be an informant for the army—to the village of El Hosynat, west of Rafah, and brutally killed him. Since February, seven Copts have been killed in Al-Arish, five of which have been shot and two have been burnt to death. In the latest incident, the corpses of two Coptic citizens have been found thrown behind a state-run language school. Last week, under the name of the “Islamic State in Egypt” and with the headline of “Fight All Infidels”, the IS-affiliated group released a new video, issuing fierce threats against the Coptic citizens of Egypt, accusing them of insulting Islam, and threatening to carry out more attacks against them.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised more aid for Cairo’s counter-terrorism efforts and economic development plan during a meeting with Egyptian counterpart SamehShoukry in Washington on Monday, adding that the Washington considers Cairo a real partner in the Middle East. The two officials stressed during their meeting the special and strategic ties that have binded the two countries for decades, vowing more cooperation on all levels. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Shoukry updated his US counterpart on the latest economic and security developments in Egypt, as well as the country’s counter-terrorism efforts. The two ministers also discussed a range of regional issues, including the Syrian crisis, where Shoukry stressed the importance of reaching a political solution to the conflict in a way that preserves the country’s territorial integrity and national institutions and achieves the hopes of the Syrian people. Shoukry also spoke with Tillerson about Egypt’s political efforts to end the crisis in Libya in accordance with the UN-brokered Skhirat agreement of 2015. On the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Egyptian FM stressed the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state, pointing to Cairo’s efforts to return both sides to the negotiating table.
Shoukry will also discuss with US officials preparations for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s upcoming visit to the US to meet with President Donald Trump, which will be the first meeting between an Egyptian and US president in years. The last official meeting in Washington of the countries’ two leaders was between former presidents Hosni Mubarak and George W. Bush in 2004.
Army units affiliated with the third field army continued the sweeping operation it has launched against militants stationed in the area of Mount Helal. The security forces managed on Tuesday to arrest 12 militants, the army’s spokesperson said in a Facebook statement. The forces were furthermore able to seize a four wheel drive vehicle equipped with a machine gun. The vehicle also contained quantities of explosives, military clothing, and video materials related to militants, the statement explained. “The forces managed moreover to destroy another car bomb that was prepared to be used against army and police forces. The sweeping operation also resulted in the discovery of fuel storage points, three motorbikes, and the destruction of seven terrorist stationing points”, the statement read. The statement added that during the sweeping operation the forces burned 24 farms that grew the poppy plant, in addition to being able to arrest two wanted criminals who were trying to smuggle large amounts of money.
Under the name of Islamic State in Egypt and with the headline of “Fight All Infidels”, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group released a new video, issuing fierce threats against the Coptic citizens of Egypt and accusing them of insulting Islam, threatening to carry out more attacks against them.The perpetrator, who appeared under the name of Abo Abdullah Al Masry urged IS affiliated militants in different parts of the world to liberate the detained Muslims in Egypt and said that they [IS] would reach Cairo soon. In response to the IS video, the Observatory for Extremist and Takfiri Thoughts, affiliated with the Dar Al-Ifta, issued a statement on Monday that carried commentary and analysis of the content of the IS video. The Observatory’s role is to monitor extremist views and provide a counter-narrative. The Observatory noted that the released video is aiming to create sectarian strife between Egyptian Muslims and Coptic citizens by distorting the meaning of Qur’anic verses and by portraying the relationship between Muslims and Copts as based on conflict and bloodshed. “The most prominent observation of the IS-released video is the absence of the name ‘Sinai Province’ and that it instead uses Islamic State in Egypt; this step only aims to give the impression that ‘Sinai Province’ group’s operations exceed Sinai Peninsula and they had reached Cairo, especially following the Cairo Church attack that is considered a turning point in the IS terrorist work in Egypt”, the report read. “The IS group aims to put Egyptian Muslim citizens in opposition to the Egyptian state by alleging that the government is only protecting Coptic citizens and securing their churches while it allegedly demolishes mosques, burns the Qur’an, and kills Muslims”, the Observatory’s statement continued.
The Egyptian presidency issued a statement on Sunday to comment on recently published press reports suggesting that President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi participated in a “secret summit” between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former US secretary of state John Kerry, and Arab leaders. While not denying participation in the meeting, the presidency said that “Egypt spares no efforts to reach a just and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue, based on the two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to establish an independent state along the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, without any political outbidding”. On Sunday, Israeli news website Haaretz published an exclusive report stating that Netanyahu took part in a secret summit in Aqaba a year ago. Participants allegedly included Kerry, Al-Sisi, and King of Jordan Abdullah II. The report said that Kerry’s proposal was rejected by Netanyahu but was supported by the two Arab leaders. The proposal reportedly included the recognition of the Jewish state and the renewal of talks with the Palestinians with support of the Arab countries.
Armed forces affiliated to the third field army managed on Saturday to kill a leading figure in the IS-affiliated group of “Sinai Province” in a sweeping operation in central Sinai. He had been responsible for killing five security conscripts recently. The leading figure killed, named Hamd Salem Soliman, was 30 years old and specialised in planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and launching military attacks against police and army checkpoints based in North and central Sinai. Soliman killed five security conscripts on 23 January when they were back to their military units based in central Sinai following a short vacation. They were killed after other militants forced them from a minibus and opened fire on them.
Members of Libya’s High Council of State have agreed to meet a delegation from the Libyan House of Representatives in Cairo as part of talks hosted by Egypt to reach a political settlement to the Libyan civil conflict, according to Egypt’s army spokesman. Egypt’s Army Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazi, who is mediating talks between Libyan factions, received on Thursday the delegation from Libya’s High Council of State with the attendance of Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry. Talks were held on Monday and Tuesday between the chairman of the Libyan Presidential Council Fayaz Al-Sarraj, who is based in the capital Tripoli in the west of the country and is recognised by the UN as the country’s president, and Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar and Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh, who both represent the House of Representatives in eastern Libya’s Tobruk. Attendants of the meeting expressed their appreciation for the Egyptian role to reach a solution to the Libyan crisis, calling on Libya’s House of Representatives to make use of this opportunity to save the situation in the country. Over the past months, Cairo has held meetings with different Libyan political factions, where Egypt has stressed the need for a political consensus to end the crisis in the country.
Vladimir Putin’s decision to stop flights on Egypt. British intelligence demonstration that the flight 7K9268 was blown up by a bomb. Islamic State claim and exultation on web sites close to Daesh. Egyptian government does not exclude an alleged attempt. The plane crashed on Sinai, in which 224 people died, could destabilize institutions and economy of Egypt.
As early as during the last summer, jihadist groups strategy on Sinai, where they are affiliated to Caliphate, was clear: hitting international targets in Egypt, in order to undermine its economy, beginning from tourism.
As reported by Il Fatto Quotidiano, during 2014, tourism has accounted for 14% of Egyptian GDP. 11.6% of population has worked in this industry. About 10 million foreign tourists, whose 2 million Russians has visited Pyramids or Sharm El-Sheik.
However, current high season could be damage by Russian airbus crush. With that, Egyptian economy, especially unemployment, should have a collapse. After the fall of Mubarak and the election of Morsi, then arrested, al Sisi could risk in the face of population. The same that, because of poverty, was the protagonist of the Arab Spring in 2011.
But the banning of Muslim Brotherhood and military intervention in Libya to defend the Tobruk have caused the reaction and a dual strategy from Daesh. On the Egyptian front, Caliphate’s strategy is to undermine stability of the country, as in Syria and Iraq, in order to undercut its talks with West, as during Mubarak regime and now with al Sisi.
As for geopolitical context, the purpose is to avoid the possible stabilization of neighboring Libya. This means the failure of national unity government, but also the outster of a possible partner of United Nations. The last electoral success and the Suez Canal expansion could become a vague recollection for Al Sisi if Egypt had a social and economic crack.