Egypt Struggles to Suppress ISIS in the Sinai

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Friday’s deadly terrorist attack at the Al-Rawda mosque in the north of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula demonstrates that the so-called Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate remains a potent force and raises questions about the effectiveness of Egypt’s harsh four-year anti-ISIS campaign. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has pledged to stay the course with strong counterterrorism rhetoric, but his approach has failed to suppress the Sinai-based jihadist movement or address the root causes that have led many in the region to feel disenfranchised by the Egyptian government.

  • Originally known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, ISIS’ Sinai branch has been active in the Sinai Peninsula since 2011. The group pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in November 2014, assuming the name Sinai Province.
  • Sinai Province shocked counterterrorism experts with their technical prowess in October 2015, after claiming responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane, Metrojet Flight 9268, killing all 224 people on board.
  • Over the last few years, Sinai Province has frequently attacked Egyptian military and security forces deployed in the Sinai and has even managed to strike in Egypt’s heartland. In April, the group bombed Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta on Palm Sunday, killing 47 people and injuring more than 100 others.
  • Estimates put Sinai Province’s membership at between 1,000-1,500 members.
  • With ISIS losing approximately 95 percent of the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, ISIS leaders may seek refuge in the Sinai, and the group may look to further prop up its Sinai branch by increasing the number of fighters and weapons that are transported into the territory.

Robert Richer, Former Associate Deputy Director of Operations, CIA

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