Sinai based militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (ABM) have pledged allegiance to the extremist ‘Islamic State’ group.
An audio recording was released in the early hours of Monday morning via the group’s Twitter account, entitled ‘pledge of allegiance to the Caliph of Muslims Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and joining the Islamic State’.
The group called for “all Muslims” to also pledge allegiance to Al-Baghdadi, who was named Caliph Ibrahim following the group’s decision to establish an Islamic Caliphate.
Speaking directly to Egyptians in the recording, ABM stated that it is “no use to continue with shameful peace or blasphemous democracy” and called on Egyptians to fight against the armed forces. They also labelled President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi a “despicable tyrant” and accused him of killing the “sons” of Egyptians.
An armed forces spokesman recently told Daily News Egypt that ABM is a “terrorist organisation” and that there is “no room for dialogue” with them.
Zack Gold, a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, closely follows the security situation and militant groups in Sinai, confirmed the validity of the audio recording.
Last week ABM denied reports that it had pledged allegiance to ISIS following the circulation of a statement on social media networks. Gold said the “leak” could have come from a faction of larger group, which is an “amalgamation of Sinai groups with different interests”, which he believes indicates a “lack of central control”.
Known by a number of different acronyms the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ previously identified as ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Al-Sham’ (ISIS). The extremist Sunni militants have claimed large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria taking advantage of the security situation in Syria and launching a surprise offensive in Iraq in June.
Gold said it is a “little early to tell the exact implications” of the pledge for Egypt. He added that it is “unclear if ABM will change its modus operandi” to match that of ISIS, which is sectarian in nature. The group has targeted religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, slaughtering Shia’a Muslims, Christians and Kurdish ethno-religious Yazidis.
“It is also possible that [ABM] have put their name to the group but will continue to operate in the same way”, said Gold. He said that ABM’s statements say they have always claimed to “act because the military is moving people from their homes or attacking innocent women or attacking Muslims or destroying homes” whether or not these actions are “real or perceived”.
Gold believes if ABM were to start matching ISIS’s style through “imposing Sharia Law or conducting mass killings those who oppose them they could lose support in the peninsula”. He added: “The locals who do support ABM don’t support them for jihadism but because it claims to be defending the local population.”
ISIS has attracted many foreign fighters from Europe and the, although Gold thinks this phenomenon is unlikely to repeat itself in the Sinai Peninsula.
“I have always thought the situation is different, Sinai is a draw for Egyptians”, adding that the ideological justification for foreign fighters to go to Syria and Iraq is not present in the Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s armed forces increased their security presence in the peninsula after two deadly attacks in North Sinai on 24 October resulted in the deaths of at least 30 soldiers. ABM did not claim these attacks.
ABM has been Egypt’s most active militant group over the last year, specifically targeting the state security apparatus. The group is based mostly in the volatile Sinai Peninsula, but has also carried out attacks in the greater Cairo area, including an assassination attempt on Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim.
Egypt is also a member of the US-led coalition, formed in September, to combat the rise of ISIS. Egypt stated at the time that its contribution to the coalition was to “fight its own battle against this common enemy” within Egypt. Gold highlighted that this has been Egypt’s position “from day one of the anti-ISIS coalition” pointing out Egypt was clear that Islamic extremism is a regional issue not just in Syria and Iraq. Gold added: “This declaration very much aids the Egyptian effort to link jihadism across the region.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in October that Egypt’s religious institutions can play a vital role in the ideological battle against ISIS. US President Barack Obama said at a coalition meeting in mid-October that the fight against ISIS is a military battle and a fight against “an ideological strain of extremism that has taken root in too many parts of the region”.
Gold believes that this development will see Egypt push the US for additional equipment to fight militancy in Sinai, something the US has supported for a long time. He said that he expects Egypt to renew its request for armed drones and other equipment, which have previously been withheld.
Gold also said that this could see closer cooperation between Egypt and Israel on security in Sinai saying that Israel has been “wanting to be a larger but behind the scenes player in the anti-ISIS coalition”. He added: “It will be interesting to see how these countries will partner to face this new dynamic”.
Additional Reporting by Menna Zaki