November 5th, 2013
09:34 AM ET

Egypt's growing militant threat?

By David Barnett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Barnett is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. You can follow him @dbarn225. The views expressed are his own.

Late last month, Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM), a Sinai-based Salafi jihadist group, released a video detailing its September assassination attempt on Egypt's interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, in Nasr City. While the suicide bombing attack failed to kill the interior minister, it marked the first time ABM had conducted an attack in Egypt’s “mainland.”

The video’s release comes amidst a somewhat surprising downturn in the frequency of attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, where violence has been raging and the Egyptian military has responded by deploying a significant amount of force. While army operations in the Sinai may well be succeeding on some level, ABM and its cohorts may be entering a new phase in which they carry out less frequent but till bolder and bloodier attacks.

Violence carried out by ABM is nothing new, of course. Although the group has only claimed responsibility for a few of the reported 197 attacks (the actual number is likely much higher) in the Sinai since the toppling of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy on July 3, it has hinted at involvement in many others. These ongoing attacks have targeted everything from property to Egyptian security personnel, former politicians, and tribal leaders.

Many of these attacks might be characterized as attacks of convenience, such as shootings. However, these attacks of convenience may now be on the decline. The Egyptian military is actively cracking down across the peninsula. Security personnel have killed and arrested dozens of suspected Islamist militants, raided hundreds of homes, and taken control of countless weapon caches.

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The army claims that operations have been carefully planned and directed at specific targets. However, a recent report by a pair of journalists who entered North Sinai observed that the Egyptian army “not only attacks suspected insurgents, but it’s also taking out its wrath on everyone related to an alleged insurgents.” Jihadists and their supporters have made similar claims, alleging that operations have targeted mosques and killed innocent people, including women, children, and the elderly.

Justified or not, the Egyptian military’s strategy appears to be working. While there were 104 reported attacks in July, August, September, and October saw 40, 31, and 22 attacks, respectively.

With less room to maneuver, however, ABM may be altering its tactics. In fact, the group, whose fighters have been lauded by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen as “our mujahedeen brothers,” now appears to be taking its time to plan and execute more high profile attacks. This approach arguably leaves its members less exposed to ongoing security sweeps. But it also allows the group to strike strategically at a time of its convenience.

The attack on Egypt’s interior minister is a case in point. ABM struck deep in the heart of Egypt. In its claim of responsibility for the September 5 attack, the Salafi jihadist group threatened to carry out similar attacks, warning Muslims "to stay away from the installations and headquarters of the Ministries of Defense and Interior, so as to preserve their souls and property."

On October 7, ABM struck again, when a suicide bomber unleashed a blast at the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor. Three security personnel were killed and more than 45 injured in the attack. The group later boasted that the operation required its suicide bomber to “pass three security checkpoints with his explosives-laden vehicle.”

Twelve days later, a military intelligence building in the city of Ismailia was targeted in an ABM car bombing. In its claim of responsibility for the attack, which left at least six wounded, the group reiterated its call for Egyptian Muslims “to stay away from all military and police headquarters, for they are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen.”

In the coming days and weeks, the Egyptian army will undoubtedly continue to claim success in its operations in the Sinai. Yet while it is true that the number of attacks by Islamist militants in the Sinai is currently on the decline, security personnel are still getting killed each week and the threat of mass-casualty attacks remains high. All the while, the military’s brutality is reportedly producing more militants who seek to join the ranks of groups like ABM.

Moreover, ABM, the dominant jihadist group in the Sinai, appears to be adapting rather than folding. Determined and now capable of unleashing terror outside North Sinai, it may only be a matter of time before ABM brings the Sinai insurgency to Egypt’s “mainland” on a more regular basis.

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Topics: Egypt

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    As far as we Americans are concerned, the only decent course we can take is to stay out of Egypt's internal affairs altogether. By butting in, we can only make matters there worse than what they are now! The same goes for the EU!

    November 5, 2013 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • Silverado

      No. Can't let Islamic terrorism fester in Egypt. Look at what happened in AfPak – Islamic Taliban came to power there just like the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt. Those Islamic murderers planned the killing of thousands of innocent people on 9/11 and then they danced on the streets to celebrate. It is good that Egyptian Military stepped up to the plate and banned Muslim Brotherhood. Or else, someone would have to step in and put an end to this Islamic menace, which is based on primitive mentality.

      November 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        Israel is relieved that Egypt's armed forces crack down on Islamist militants in the Sinai. The region is vast and lawless, an ideal refuge for insurgents. The inhabitants there have been at loggerheads with authorities in Cairo, as a result of decades long negligence and discrimination. Smuggling into Gaza was a lucrative business.

        November 6, 2013 at 5:11 am |
    • say

      Yes

      November 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  2. asdf

    To stop militants, take away their reasons for fighting, take away the reasons why people join them. Stop corruption and unjust practices. Stop propping up dictators and controlling things from behind the scenes. Allow representative democracy, encourage leadership and those with power to act in the intereest of the nation and its people as opposed to in the interest of themselves. The egyptian military has a strangle hold on the economy, they run everything. this is not just. Bring justice back and people wont become militant. those that do continue being a militant will be seen for what they are and will be resisted.

    November 5, 2013 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      A far better idea asdf, is to have the Communists take over Egypt since democracy there has failed so miserably. The Egyptians need to forget about democracy and work to get their economy working and renovating the Kibutzes in the Sinai once set up by the Israelis under that occupation(1967-1982) and literally "make the desert bloom". Also the Egyptians need to rid themselves of their dangerous dependency on both Saudi Arabia and the West!

      November 5, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Reply
      • Felix Unger

        That's a great idea, Joseph. Socialism did work rather well under Pres. Nassar in the 50's and 60's but after 1970, Pres. Anwar Sadat decided to replace it with Capitalism with disastrous results for the poor while vastly enriching the elite there. He also made Egypt dangerously dependent of foreign from Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

        November 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • Silverado

      Egyptian Military had the courage to get rid of these Islamic Muslim Brotherhood thugs. Democracy can be established only if Islamic murderers are purged out of the government. Kudos to the Egyptian Military for purging the theocracy and paving the way for secular democracy.

      November 5, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Reply
      • ricardo1968

        On the contrary, the Egyptian military has made democracy impossible. You can't disenfranchise millions and then hold an election. It's impossible.

        November 6, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • ricardo1968

      Well said adsf. Dictatorship creates a need for dictatorship by destroying civil society. Terrorism is merely a reaction to intolerable conditions that exist in every authoritarian system. Justice and the rule of law is the only answer to the worlds problems. Anything else can do no more than treat the symptoms while perpetuating human suffering.

      November 6, 2013 at 11:54 am | Reply
    • say

      Yes

      November 6, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Reply
  3. rightospeak

    What ? Another big problem in the Middle East ? You never tire of propaganda.

    November 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  4. Gonzo

    Very complicated with all of these extremist groups running around all over the Middle East. Hard to tell which one hates the U.S less. Once again the Islamic world responds to the present world order with: Getting back to the roots of its religion. They have been doing that for centuries and have accomplished nothing but backwardness. You would figure that they would learn from their history, but no, they want to plunge themselves again into a military confrontation against themselves, against the world. Even if we left the Middle East for good, they would still plunge the whole area into a war between the two largest Islamic sects. I think God(not Allah) is permitting them to scourge the free Christian world. I think this cancer is going to be used as ROD to punish us all for the mess that we have created in this sinful environment. Sin can't go unpunished. Just read the Bible. Israel would be punished 7 times more severely than other nations because they had the best instructions for mankind. We have been blessed in this country but we have strayed away. Just like you would correct your children and not your neighbor's if they were behaving bad. Kind of a tough love approach. Not a good future for the world. Looks bad, I am sorry to say.

    November 5, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  5. GENERAL FISCAL

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    November 5, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Reply
  6. GENERAL FISCAL

    TESTICUL DENOUNCE.

    AWFULL KIDS DENOUNCE.

    1.- Michelle Obama.
    2.- Ann Dunham, Barack Obama.
    3.- Maya Soetoro-Ng, Malik Abongo Obama.

    GENETIC INFORMATION TO DEVELOPE MEDICAL TECNOLOGIES.

    POLITICS CHILDS CONTRACTING TORTURE SUITS IN TESTICUL IRRADIATION, CAUTERIZATION TO THEFT BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION TO LATINO AMERICAN CITIZENS, NARCOTRAFIC, WOMAN VIOLATION FABIOLA LEON, ASESSINATION AND THEFT.

    QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQpgiorg.blog.comQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ
    LEAVING A TRACE METHOD.

    THIS DENOUNCE COST OBAMA 5 FIVE BSf.

    HE KNOW WHY?.

    TESTICUL DENOUNCE.

    AWFULL KIDS DENOUNCE.

    1.- Michelle Obama.
    2.- Ann Dunham, Barack Obama.
    3.- Maya Soetoro-Ng, Malik Abongo Obama.

    GENETIC INFORMATION TO DEVELOPE MEDICAL TECNOLOGIES.

    POLITICS CHILDS CONTRACTING TORTURE SUITS IN TESTICUL IRRADIATION, CAUTERIZATION TO THEFT BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION TO LATINO AMERICAN CITIZENS, NARCOTRAFIC, WOMAN VIOLATION FABIOLA LEON, ASESSINATION AND THEFT.

    QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQpgiorg.blog.comQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ
    LEAVING A TRACE METHOD.

    THIS DENOUNCE COST OBAMA 5 FIVE BSf.

    HE KNOW WHY?.

    TESTICUL DENOUNCE.

    AWFULL KIDS DENOUNCE.

    1.- Michelle Obama.
    2.- Ann Dunham, Barack Obama.
    3.- Maya Soetoro-Ng, Malik Abongo Obama.

    GENETIC INFORMATION TO DEVELOPE MEDICAL TECNOLOGIES.

    POLITICS CHILDS CONTRACTING TORTURE SUITS IN TESTICUL IRRADIATION, CAUTERIZATION TO THEFT BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION TO LATINO AMERICAN CITIZENS, NARCOTRAFIC, WOMAN VIOLATION FABIOLA LEON, ASESSINATION AND THEFT.

    QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQpgiorg.blog.comQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ
    LEAVING A TRACE METHOD.

    THIS DENOUNCE COST OBAMA 5 FIVE BSf.

    HE KNOW WHY?.

    TESTICUL DENOUNCE.

    AWFULL KIDS DENOUNCE.

    1.- Michelle Obama.
    2.- Ann Dunham, Barack Obama.
    3.- Maya Soetoro-Ng, Malik Abongo Obama.

    GENETIC INFORMATION TO DEVELOPE MEDICAL TECNOLOGIES.

    POLITICS CHILDS CONTRACTING TORTURE SUITS IN TESTICUL IRRADIATION, CAUTERIZATION TO THEFT BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION TO LATINO AMERICAN CITIZENS, NARCOTRAFIC, WOMAN VIOLATION FABIOLA LEON, ASESSINATION AND THEFT.

    QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQpgiorg.blog.comQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ
    LEAVING A TRACE METHOD.

    THIS DENOUNCE COST OBAMA 5 FIVE BSf.

    HE KNOW WHY?.

    TESTICUL DENOUNCE.

    AWFULL KIDS DENOUNCE.

    1.- Michelle Obama.
    2.- Ann Dunham, Barack Obama.
    3.- Maya Soetoro-Ng, Malik Abongo Obama.

    GENETIC INFORMATION TO DEVELOPE MEDICAL TECNOLOGIES.

    POLITICS CHILDS CONTRACTING TORTURE SUITS IN TESTICUL IRRADIATION, CAUTERIZATION TO THEFT BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION TO LATINO AMERICAN CITIZENS, NARCOTRAFIC, WOMAN VIOLATION FABIOLA LEON, ASESSINATION AND THEFT.

    QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQpgiorg.blog.comQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ
    LEAVING A TRACE METHOD.

    THIS DENOUNCE COST OBAMA 5 FIVE BSf.

    HE KNOW WHY?.

    TESTICUL DENOUNCE.

    AWFULL KIDS DENOUNCE.

    1.- Michelle Obama.
    2.- Ann Dunham, Barack Obama.
    3.- Maya Soetoro-Ng, Malik Abongo Obama.

    GENETIC INFORMATION TO DEVELOPE MEDICAL TECNOLOGIES.

    POLITICS CHILDS CONTRACTING TORTURE SUITS IN TESTICUL IRRADIATION, CAUTERIZATION TO THEFT BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION TO LATINO AMERICAN CITIZENS, NARCOTRAFIC, WOMAN VIOLATION FABIOLA LEON, ASESSINATION AND THEFT.

    QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQpgiorg.blog.comQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ
    LEAVING A TRACE METHOD.

    THIS DENOUNCE COST OBAMA 5 FIVE BSf.

    HE KNOW WHY?.

    TESTICUL DENOUNCE.

    AWFULL KIDS DENOUNCE.

    1.- Michelle Obama.
    2.- Ann Dunham, Barack Obama.
    3.- Maya Soetoro-Ng, Malik Abongo Obama.

    GENETIC INFORMATION TO DEVELOPE MEDICAL TECNOLOGIES.

    POLITICS CHILDS CONTRACTING TORTURE SUITS IN TESTICUL IRRADIATION, CAUTERIZATION TO THEFT BIOLOGICAL INFORMATION TO LATINO AMERICAN CITIZENS, NARCOTRAFIC, WOMAN VIOLATION FABIOLA LEON, ASESSINATION AND THEFT.

    QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQpgiorg.blog.comQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ
    LEAVING A TRACE METHOD.

    THIS DENOUNCE COST OBAMA 5 FIVE BSf.

    HE KNOW WHY?.

    November 5, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  7. saywhat

    Indeed militancy is now a threat in Egypt. had we allowed democratic process to continue instead of propping up the military dictatorship there, there was a chance that overtime good sense would take hold. AlQaeda which couldn't get a toe hold in that country so far because of the Brotherhood is perhaps hoping for Egypt to go the way of chaos for an entry like Iraq, libya and Syria.

    November 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Reply
    • Silverado

      Al Qaeda couldn't get a toe hold in Egypt? You've got to be kidding me. The leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman Al Zawahiri, is from Egypt and belonged to the same terrorist organization called the Muslim Brotherhood. He is now hiding in a true terrorist haven called Pakistan. Had Egyptian military not intervened, MB would have turned Egypt into a hell hole like Pakistan. Please read something other than your Koran to improve your knowledge before you spew your Islamic hatred.

      November 6, 2013 at 6:49 am | Reply
  8. Cory

    After electing the Muslim Brotherhood to power who is now angry as all get out for getting ousted, I'd say-yeah.

    November 5, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  9. ✠ RZ ✠

    Fareed, whenever applicable to an article, would it be too much to ask if you could also make a short comment on how our government is or might be either directly or indirectly involved or doing about it. CNN was born of sensationalism, perhaps it's time to sensationalize on who's ultimately benefitting and who's losing from all this.

    November 6, 2013 at 5:49 am | Reply
  10. Austin

    The growing militant threat is running the country right now.

    November 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  11. Rick McDaniel

    Absolutely.

    Islam intends to take over all of the middle east, Africa, and Indonesia. They are working on Thailand, central Asia, and they have made inroads into Europe, America, and Canada.

    It is world take over, they seek, and they will keep at it, for as long as it takes.

    November 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  12. Alpha

    bannana

    November 7, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply

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