Cairo- Extremists in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula are cooperating and helping each other through money and arms transfers across several states in the region, security reports have said.
Although they have dispersed after three years of attempts to establish their own “Emirate” in an area that lies between the border with the Gaza Strip and the outskirts of El-Arish city, the insurgency in the rugged, thinly populated Sinai has gained pace after the militants joined hands with extremists in El-Arish.
Asharq Al-Awsat has received copies of the reports which reveal that among those extremists are Egyptians that had battled the authorities as part of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group before establishing training camps in both Syria and Libya.
MP Salameh Salem told the newspaper that “developments in Sinai cannot be separated from what’s happening in the rest of the region.”
Other lawmakers have also expressed belief that ISIS members abroad are trying to offer a helping hand to the extremists in El-Arish that have formed a branch of ISIS terrorist organization.
“Major powers are helping the fight against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya but Egypt hasn’t received much assistance,” one MP was quoted as saying. “Terrorists have killed our troops and citizens in Sinai while the world stood by.”
MP Rahmi Abedrabbuh told Asharq Al-Awsat that there seems to be a foreign support to shake the situation in Sinai. “Yet things will eventually be brought under control because armed forces are playing a huge role there.”
Sisi’s Speech at the Arab Summit
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said at the Arab League summit this week that the proliferation of terrorism has been one of the biggest challenges facing the Arab world.
“The confrontation of such proliferation should be comprehensive,” he said in his speech in Jordan. “Yet this is not an easy task because it (terrorism) is like cancer that spreads in the social fabric.”
Many Egyptians believe that the administration of US President Donald Trump unlike his predecessor Barack Obama could consolidate the war against extremists.
Despite the Obama administration’s long obstruction to deliver Egypt 10 helicopter gunships, Egyptian forces have in the past three years been able to launch a large-scale security campaign in Sinai.
The armed forces were able to close more than 95 percent of tunnels linking Sinai to the nearby Gaza Strip. Heavy weaponry were also deployed in Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid and Al-Arish and fighter jets carried out air strikes on vehicles transporting extremists.
Then the army entered Mount Halal where battles in the past years have left hundreds of soldiers and civilians dead.
How Extremists Operate
Residents now fear that the battles, which were confined to Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, would move to El-Arish that has a population of 100,000.
It is believed that there are currently between 200 and 300 armed extremists in El-Arish, less than the number in the past three years.
These gunmen have the ability to move incognito inside the city’s alleyways by using small and light Korean-made vehicles.
“Three to four gunmen suddenly storm a house. They stay there for a couple of hours, make threats, do as they like and suddenly disappear,” a trader in the city said.
According to a security source, ISIS terrorists in El-Arish are operating in a complicated matter and are seeking to receive funds and weapons from the group’s branches in Syria and Libya.
They are also recruiting young men, who wear modern outfits and draw no suspicion, to facilitate their movement in the city that is barricaded by the army and security forces.
Militant attacks have been on the rise in El-Arish. Among such operations are the kidnapping of citizens for their alleged collaboration with the Egyptian authorities.
Local media have also shed light on the plight of the city’s Christians. They said scores have escaped El-Arish after the extremists killed several Christians and burned their houses.
They have sporadically targeted Christians while more frequently attacking police and military personnel in the north Sinai. But there is no official data on the number of civilians, both Muslims and Christians, killed in the attacks.