The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (aka ISIS and ISIL) in Sinai, Egypt’s northeastern territory which shares borders with Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, has pledged allegiance to the new leader of its organization, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi.
On November 2, the media operatives of the terrorist organization posted photos to several social media sites, showing several masked fighters gathering in a wooded area, purportedly in Sinai, and raising their guns before they endorsed the new ISIS leader.
Al-Qurashi took over the helm of ISIS a few days ago, after the killing by US troops in eastern Syria of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the terrorist organization, who in a matter of a few years became the most feared in the world.
The Sinai affiliate of the terrorist organization was the first to endorse Al-Qurashi. A short time later, declarations of loyalty and endorsements started coming from other ISIS branches in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa.
The endorsement of the new ISIS leader by the Sinai affiliate has had Egyptian counterterrorism experts closely watching and – of course – Egyptian authorities making calculations.
The debate in Cairo these days is about how the endorsement of Al-Qurashi by the ISIS affiliate in Sinai will affect the operational style of the group that has been fighting the Egyptian army and Egyptian police for several years now.
ISIS, analysts said, still maintains presence in Sinai and will continue to be present for some time to come.
“Despite repeated blows from the army and police, the group is still there,” said terrorism expert Muneer Adeeb. “I believe it will continue to be there for some time.”
ISIS Sinai evolved into what it is now after years of fighting against the Egyptian army under the name of “Ansar Beit al-Maqdis” or “Backers of al-Aqsa Mosque”. The group, which was made up of Egyptian extremists and some of the Bedouin residents of Sinai only then, pledged allegiance to ISIS and its former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late 2014.
Its endorsement of Baghdadi helped it secure logistical support from the mother organization which was rapidly expanding in Iraq and Syria at the time. Baghdadi also reportedly sent military commanders to Sinai to help his organization’s affiliate in this Egyptian territory overhaul its tactics in its fight against the Egyptian army.
This support paid off, with ISIS succeeding in turning some parts of Sinai into no-go areas for everybody, including the Christian community whose members had to escape to Egyptian cities in the Nile Delta and along the Suez Canal.
Nevertheless, in February 2018, the Egyptian army launched an all-out operation against the group, one that 20 months later reduced its capabilities to almost nothing. The photos of the Sinai affiliate endorsing the new caliph of ISIS demonstrate this very clearly.
Two dozen militants appeared in the photos, but they are poorly dressed. They wore slippers in their legs and carried outdated machine guns.
The reasons for this poor show were clarified two days later when the Egyptian army released a statement on the number of ISIS terrorists it killed since September 28.
It said army troops had succeeded in killed 83 ISIS terrorists since that date. The troops also, the army added in its statement, succeeded in destroying 14 hideouts and 115 vehicles.
Apart from the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the group and its success in undermining it, the weaknesses of the Sinai affiliate of ISIS also coincide with the defeats the mother organization suffers in Syria and Iraq.
However, whether ISIS Sinai will come back to life depends on whether the mother organization will send in supplies in the future.
“This will also depend on whether ISIS state sponsors will send in supplies,” Adeeb said. “Some of the states backing this terrorist group want to destabilize Egypt, which is why I expect them to step up support to it in the future.”