Special Feature: Terrorism in Sinai

Thu, Mar 20th 2014, 3:44PM

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The recent escalation of terrorist attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has received widespread international attention, but is not a new phenomenon. MEI’s History of Terrorism in Sinai, which includes an interactive timeline and map, follows terrorist activity - by location, method, target, and associated group - in this geopolitical hotspot over the last decade.  Because of the nature of the security crisis in Sinai, this is not a comprehensive record, but a curated account of the most relevant attacks and events that have been reported to date.


Interactive Timeline

Legend:   Location of attack   Target of attack   Responsible group   Method of attack


Geopolitical Importance

The Sinai Peninsula is located between the Suez Canal and the Arabian Peninsula. Although Sinai is geographically isolated, it links key states such as Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Owing to its geopolitical importance, it was a battleground in every war between Egypt and Israel from 1948 until 1979. The 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel returned Sinai to Egypt, and has prevented large-scale Arab-Israeli military confrontations for more than 30 years.

Escalating Instability in Sinai

Egyptian authorities have lost control of large swathes of Sinai since the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. A security vacuum has allowed for increased organizational and operational capacity of terrorist groups in the area. Additionally, extremism has been on the rise since Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in July 2013 and the subsequent crackdown on political Islam and Islamist parties. Terrorist groups tend to target state infrastructure and security forces, coordinating with local Bedouin who have long harbored grievances against Cairo due to years of marginalization and mistreatment. Attacks often target police stations, checkpoints, government offices, and the Arab Gas Pipeline between Egypt and Israel in north Sinai. Profiting from the region’s general lawlessness, some Bedouin populations engage in human, arms, and drug trafficking.

Key Events by Period

Pre-Revolution

  • Major Attacks on Tourist Resorts in 2004, 2005, 2006
  • Rocket Attacks on Eilat, Israel and Aqaba, Jordan

SCAF Rule

  • Pipeline Attacks Escalate
  • Infiltration of Israeli Border by Terrorists Heightens Security Tensions

Morsi's Government

  • Military Launches Major Counter-terrorism Operation in Sinai
  • Heightened Concern Over Safety of Egyptian Security Forces
  • Assassination of Mohamed Said, Senior Aide to Minister of Interior

Post-Morsi

  • Renewed Crackdown on Gaza Tunnels
  • Terrorist Groups Show Increased Operational Capacity
  • Bombings Hit Cairo 
Infographic: Casualties of Terrorist Attacks

Source: Wiki Thawra

Implications of Instability

The escalating and expanding nature of attacks by terrorist groups based in Sinai is of growing concern to Egypt, its neighbors, and the international community. To address the mounting threat, Egypt launched Operation Sinai in August 2012, the largest military campaign on the peninsula since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Defense Minister Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has assured that “the Armed Forces will never allow any threats against Sinai, and its sons are ready to sacrifice their lives in order for Sinai to remain part of Egypt and never depart from it.”

Operation Sinai

Operation Sinai is an ongoing Egyptian military campaign aimed at increasing security within Sinai, along its international borders, and along the Suez Canal. First launched in August 2012 in response to an Egypt-Israeli border attack, the military campaign’s primary goal is to root out Islamic militants who threaten security in the international border region. Operating with Israel’s approval, it is the largest military campaign in Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Group Profiles

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), a Salafi jihadi terrorist organization, is the principal terrorist group active in Sinai. ABM’s operations began during the January 2011 revolution and have dramatically increased since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013. While ABM's primary targets have been limited to police and soldiers in Sinai, over the last six months the group has also claimed responsibility for high-profile assassination bids and bombings in Cairo and for a recent attack on tourists.

Further Reading

 

Tawhid and Jihad

Photo: Reuters

Tawhid and Jihad (Al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad) was an al-Qa‘ida-affiliated Sunni jihadi terrorist organization active in the early to mid-2000s in the Gaza Strip and north Sinai. The group drew its ideology and name from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Iraqi organization of the same name. It was the first Sinai terrorist group to bring ideology to action. Most notably, Tawhid and Jihad was responsible for bombings of tourist resorts in south Sinai in 2004, 2005, and 2006. The group’s founder, Khaled Musa‘id, a dentist from the city of el-Arish, was a member of the prominent al-Sawarka tribe of north Sinai.

Sinai Bedouins

There are more than ten Bedouin tribes in Sinai, and although population estimates are largely unreliable, around 80,000 Bedouin are thought to live on the peninsula. There is a rocky history of conflict between Bedouin and Arab states, and Egypt is no exception. The Egyptian state’s economic interest in Sinai centers around the tourism industry, with south Sinai bringing in Egypt’s highest tourism revenues. While some of the southern tribes benefit from the industry, many Bedouin populations harbor grievances against Cairo for decades of tribal disenfranchisement, state neglect, and empty development promises. To compensate, some Bedouin tribes have engaged in human, arms, and drug trafficking. Others have resorted to kidnapping tourists and Egyptian police in order to exchange them for captured tribesmen. Some have espoused jihadi ideologies and joined or supported terrorist organizations in the area.

 

Further Reading

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Research and Design by:
Holly Cramer
Tim Harper
Samantha Moog
Eric Spioch