Egypt is in the Al-Qaeda affiliated group Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis | exposed to a new threat world news
An al-Qaeda-inspired group has emerged as Egypt’s greatest terrorist threat after a week of taking responsibility for the downing of a military helicopter, the murder of a senior police officer and the explosion of a giant bomb outside Cairo Police Headquarters exposed a decade.
Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis (ABM), or Champions of Jerusalem, first appeared in 2011 in a security vacuum caused by the fall of Hosni Mubarak. ABM has its headquarters in the remote northern Sinai desert next to the Israeli border and has expanded ABM’s activities dramatically after the overthrow of Islamist ex-President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
What began as an uprising on Sinai now appears to have spread to the heartland of Egypt. ABM is now able to carry out increasingly sophisticated attacks both inside and outside the peninsula.
“They are the greatest terrorist threat to Egypt, both in Sinai and on the mainland,” said Zack Gold, a Sinai-focused analyst and author of a paper on militancy in the region. “They have expanded their skills from struggling to survive in Sinai to targets west of Suez [canal] this includes car bombs and assassinations. “
So far, the main goals of ABM have been limited to the police and soldiers. They take revenge on the suppression of Islamist dissidents by the security forces after Morsi’s fall and on the army’s ongoing counter-insurgency in Sinai. In September they tried to kill the Egyptian police minister. They successfully murdered a senior secret police officer in November and a month later killed a dozen police officers at a security headquarters in northern Egypt.
That steady line of attacks ended this week with a bomb explosion in the heart of Cairo, the assassination of an aide to the Minister of Police, and the downing of an army helicopter in Sinai using a sophisticated portable rocket launcher known as manpads.
The latter, previously unknown to exist in Sinai, caused considerable concern among military analysts. While ABM has shown no prior interest in targeting tourists, whose habit is essential to the livelihood of many Sinai tribes, Manpad’s commercial airliners can topple.
“That was always our worst nightmare: that a civil airliner is shot down by one,” said the former CIA director David Petraeus this week and called the development a “big deal”.
Sinai experts warned that another similar missile attack did not necessarily match ABM’s immediate ambitions or capabilities. The uncertainty, however, underscores how little is known about the shadow group.
The Egyptian government and media are doing their best to link ABM with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood of Morsi to tarry the latter. But in reality no one knows exactly who runs it or how central its operations are, nor its relationships with local tribes, other smaller militant groups in Sinai, or al-Qaeda itself.
Nevertheless, it is considered to be the most active and competent of the various groups in Sinai. According to David Barnett, a researcher who oversees ABM activity, at least 295 attacks have been reported there since July, with ABM claiming far more than any other group.
The membership of ABM is estimated at 700–1,000. Its numbers are believed to increase as a combination of decades of disenfranchisement of the Sinai tribes and ongoing repression of political Islamism across Egypt makes membership a far more attractive prospect. Charles Lister, a jihadist expert and visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, said, “In some ways, ABM was there at the right time – if Morsi hadn’t been overthrown, it would by no means be the group it is today.”
In its video propaganda and literature, ABM shows an affinity for al-Qaeda, and the proficiency of its attacks suggests some level of outside training. But until Ayman Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida, mentioned “our people in Sinai” in an audio message on January 24, there was no confirmation that al-Qaeda recognized Sinai jihadists.
“It really got my attention,” said Barnett. “It supports the view that there are foreign fighters in Sinai and it is a message from al-Qaeda that your cause is recognized by us and foreigners are likely to come to help you.”
It is currently believed that the vast majority of ABM members are Egyptians – although it is unclear how many are from Sinai itself and how much support the locals give to the group.
“It’s very difficult to quantify,” said a Sinai researcher, who spoke anonymously for security reasons. “The tribes are currently divided over the loss of business” – the army uprising has destroyed many smugglers’ tunnels to Gaza, a lucrative source of income in the area – “but many people support the group only because of the military operations that have destroyed many houses, people and trees . “
The government speaks in the same breath of ABM and the Brotherhood, but analysts say the links are weak. According to Barnett, ABM could even attempt to pull disenfranchised Brotherhood members away from the latter group, as the Brotherhood’s main tactic – the protest march – only appears to end with Muslim brothers being arrested and killed.
“What ABM is saying is that if you want to keep getting killed, your peaceful approach is fine,” said Barnett. “We are here to defend you [whereas] The brotherhood is no longer there for you. “