Alwaght- The spokesman to the Egyptian army Tamer al-Refaee in a statement said that on Thursday night a roadside bomb in Bir al-Abed in northern Sinai killed an Egyptian soldier and injured 9 while they were on a patrol mission.
The statement emphasized that the Egyptian armed forces will continue to fight terrorism in the area to ensure the security and stability of the country.
ISIS terrorist group in a statement claimed responsibility for the blast. Over the past few years, the Egyptian military intensified its combat against the terrorist group in the desert region but the ISIS militants remain to have control in the area and every now and then launch attacks on the country’s troops operating there.
Egypt army vs. ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula since 2011
Since 2011, Egypt has been witnessing armed attacks in northern Sinai and the adjacent areas. The attacks were ratcheted up especially after the fall of Hosni Mubarak and then in 2013 of Mohamad Morsi, the first democratically-elected president of Egypt.
When in 2014 Abdel Fattah el-Sisi assumed the power after a coup against Morsi, he declared a state of emergency in a number of Sinai areas and launched several massive military operations to obliterate the terrorists active there. During his visit to New York last year to join the United Nations General Assembly, el-Sisi told the media that his administration was coordinating with the Israelis to push forward the attacks on the militant groups operating in the region.
The last major military operation by the army against terrorists in Sinai was launched in 2018, during which the rapid response forces and air force played a key role. The operation led to the death of a large number of takfiri terrorists. But this does not mean that over the past two years, there have not been attacks. The army continuously conducts detection and attack missions in Sinai, according to the government sources.
Although the major anti-terror operations since 2014 improved the security considerably in northern Sinai, terrorist militants remain active and launch attacks targeting military personnel.
Who are Sinai Peninsula terrorists?
Although since the beginning of attacks on the Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula the army identified a set of terrorist groups, the most important group now intensively active there is Ansar Bait Al-Muqadas, comprised of smaller terrorist factions. The group in 2014 swore allegiance to ISIS. At the time, ISIS appointed an emir (governor) for Sinai.
Egypt says that members recruited by the Ansar Bait Al-Muqadas are not from a single country. Rather, they were attracted to the group from a variety of countries to join the fighting against the Egyptian forces.
Libya is one of the countries from which militia fighters arrived in Sinai, especially after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 in a popular uprising assisted by NATO bombing campaign. The militias in Libya grew bigger and bigger and moved beyond the government control as a central administration is yet to be formed. Egypt’s security services say that these fighters along with others from different countries entered the country from underground tunnels in Gaza, from eastern borders, and also from Suez Canal.
The Egyptian army more than once in statements and even documented films provided reports that the terrorists plant opium in Sinai to finance part of their activities. A major part of their finances is provided by their backers at home and abroad.
Government’s measures to secure the Sinai Peninsula
Having in mind that Sinai is separate from mainland Egypt and they are linked through Suez Canal, the government has developed channels just beneath the Suez Canal to facilitate access to the isolated Peninsula.
Last month, el-Sisi inaugurated a second tunnel, dubbed Shahid Ahmad Hamdi Tunnel 2, connecting mainland Egypt to Sinai. So, there are now 5 separate tunnels leading to Sinai.
The second move is building new cities for low-income Egyptians, especially in northern Sinai. For years, poverty has been the main cause the Egyptian citizens from Sinai have been recruited by terrorist factions.
Also, the government launched projects bringing fresh water to the peninsula as well as creating jobs there all to eliminate potentials for terrorists groups’ recruitment.
Militarily, the government set up military bases to support the anti-terror operations. It also built walls along the Gaza border in an effort to prevent terrorist activities. In January, it launched the biggest military base on the Red Sea coast. Though the base serves a variety of purposes, it will be very effective militarily and logistically in the future operations in Sinai as it hosts together forces and equipment from the army, air force, and navy.
Since 2014, the Egyptian government has been keen to restore stability to Sinai. It wants to manage the crisis in the region from economic, social, and military, and security aspects. But it is yet to reach the ideal conditions despite the considerable achievements it has made since el-Sisi took the power in Cairo.
The failure to bring full security to Sinai is tied to regional powers’ rivalry in Libya. Certainly, the Sinai-based armed groups provide one of the main pressure tools in the hands of the countries rivaling Cairo in the Libyan case. The foreign financial and intelligence support to the terrorist factions in the Egyptian region along with tribal makeup of Sinai, as well as its specific geographic conditions that provide shelter to the terrorist militants, are the main drives keeping the terrorists active in this part of Egypt.