Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Jihadists Threaten Eid Attack in Egypt. Can Group Reach beyond Sinai Base?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Jihadists Threaten Eid Attack in Egypt. Can Group Reach beyond Sinai Base?

Article excerpt

In Egypt, where militants strike almost daily, a jihadist group that has been locked in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the army in the east of the country is threatening to make the start of the Eid al-Adha festival this weekend a "black day" for security forces.

Ansar Bayt el-Maqdis, which is said to be in communication with Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria, has been largely hemmed in by Egypt's army in the Sinai Peninsula. On Thursday the army said it had killed one of the group's commanders in the eastern Sinai.

Ansar's campaign against the security services has proven the deadliest among Egypt's Islamist groups, with hundreds of policemen killed in recent years. Still, the group's latest threat is seen as an audacious claim by a group that operates in the borderlands.

"Unless they have firm plans in place, announcing a specific date was a risky move," says Zack Gold, an adjunct fellow at the Washington-based American Security Project and an expert on the group. "This is an organization that has not pulled off a major attack outside of the Sinai for months."

Across Egypt, several jihadist groups have sought to exploit lawless frontiners to mount attacks against the security services. In the east is Ansar. On Egypt's western flank, the authorities face a flow of weapons and, sometimes, militants, from neighboring Libya.

Even the more amateurish groups have struck police targets with such frequency that many here have adjusted to the reality of near- daily low-level attacks.

The fragmented insurgency dates back to 2011, when Ansar mounted its first attacks in Sinai. It has gathered pace since Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown last July in a popularly backed coup.

Ansar's core group of fighters is estimated to be in the low hundreds, drawing most of its manpower from the local Bedouin community. Local residents say other fighters hail from the Egyptian mainland and, in some cases, Gaza and Sudan.

To neutralize the threat outside of Sinai, Egypt's army has placed the region on lockdown, controlling traffic in and out of the area. …

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