CAIRO: Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) posted a video Tuesday of the bombing of an armored vehicle in North Sinai hours after the attack, although security forces arrested four suspects in the vicinity of the crime scene.
The vehicle was on a mission to detect landmines on the Sheikh Zuwayed-Rafah Road. The intensity of the anti-tank mine made the vehicle spin three times in the air before it landed, killing the six policemen on board.
“Huge amounts of sophisticated weapons were deliberately allowed into Egypt during the one-year rule of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi from Libya,” military expert Fouad Allam told The Cairo Post Wednesday.
In January, ABM released a video of their downing of a military helicopter in North Sinai, an attack that killed five soldiers.
AMB retaliates against security: Investigators
The Tuesday blast was not prevented due to a security flaw; the vehicle was going out of the usual squadron, reported Youm7.
Investigators say the mine was planted in a trench dug under the road after Tuesday midnight. The assailants were on motorcycles, and hid behind trees in the area to film the assault, then escaped in different directions.
The bombing was allegedly retaliatory against ongoing blows to terrorist groups, most recently when four takfiris with an anti-aircraft missile were killed Monday south of Rafah, a security official told Youm7.
The attack also followed a press conference by Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim on Sunday, during which he gave a report on the recent killing of alleged perpetrators of several major terrorist attacks.
Later on the same day of the attack, unidentified gunmen fired mortars at a security camp in Rafah, and security forces neutralized a second mine on the same road and a third detonated on Arish-Rafah Road, missing an armored vehicle, according to Youm7.
A major security crackdown followed the attack with a concurrent full block of communications and internet services, Youm7 reported.
Alleged Libya, Gaza and IS factors
In his Sunday press conference, Ibrahim said “there are no Daesh (Arabic for the insurgency of the Islamic State) elements on the ground in Egypt.” However, several reports suggest there is communication between IS and extremists in Egypt, who also have formed ties with Libyan militants.
Egyptian officials have already sought coordination with Tunisia and Algeria, Libya’s other neighbors, to tackle perceived emergence of IS in the vast, oil-rich state.
ABM is primarily active in the Sinai Peninsula in the far east of Egypt, with occasional attacks in Cairo and the Delta. But it has also posted photos of a major attack in Farafra Oasis near the Libyan borders in the far west, which killed 22 military officers and privates.
Egypt’s local media reported that both IS and ABM were responsible for the attack.
Who are Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis?
ABM, designated as a terrorist organization by Egypt and the U.S., was established in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution in 2011, and mainly attacked Israeli targets and Sinai pipelines exporting gas to the Jewish state and Jordan. After Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, the group stepped up its attacks against Egyptian targets.
“ABM is composed of takfiris who have isolated themselves from the society in the past two decades. Its members are Egyptian, Palestinian and other international takfiris,” Sinai-based reporter Mohamed Hussein, who is a local of the peninsula, told The Cairo Post Wednesday, citing Sinai locals who “have seen ABM members closely.”
After the organization formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant proclaimed itself the “Islamic State” rather than an insurgency, ABM has followed some of IS’s techniques, such as publicly broadcast beheadings and trying to appeal to the public, whether inspired by IS’s online media or online contact with them.
Since August, ABM has been reported to install checkpoints in North Sinai and check paper presented by travelers against other documents. It also has distributed publications among locals, introducing itself and its goals.
The publications are entitled “to our families and loved ones in Sinai,” and discuss who they are, why they do jihad, and whether they can reach their goals.
ABM asserts in the publications that they can ultimately establish a caliphate, and called on the locals to stand by their side rather than the “enemy’s side.”
According to Hussein, although locals are not sympathetic towards ABM, especially since they kill conscripts from blue collar backgrounds, they fear them due to their brutality.
Military conscription in Egypt is compulsory for males between 18 and 30 for up to three years. Conscripts are enlisted to serve either in the military and the police.
“The escalation of ABM’s attacks is due to the unprecedented firm grip over them by security forces, and to prove their existence. Raising their flags when there is no security oversight and distributing publications are messages to security forces rather than the locals,” Hussein said.
Suggesting a Gaza factor, military expert Allam, who is also a former general, said “one of the reasons behind the relentless destruction of tunnels along the Gaza border is that they are used to smuggle weapons or militants to assist in terrorist attacks.”
However, Hussein overruled such a possibility, saying that all locals along the 12 km border are pro-military, and that the strict control over it would not allow interference from extremists in Gaza.
“Only during Morsi’s rule did locals see free movement through the tunnels and Gazan militants training extremists in Sinai,” Hussein added.