Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula (AQSP) is an Egyptian jihadist organisation that was formed during a merger of al-Qaeda operatives who were already present in the Sinai and the terror organisation Ansar al-Jihad. This branch of al-Qaeda was first announced to be operating in August of 2006 when the then-deputy leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced that it had split from a rival Islamist organisation in the region known as al-Islamiyya. In December 2011, Ansar al-Jihad announced its formation in which they promised to “fulfil the oath of the martyr of the Ummah, [their] Sheikh Osama bin Laden” (Roggio 2011b). While the cooperation between the component groups of AQSP is uncertain, they have all pledged an oath of allegiance to the overarching al-Qaeda organisation.
History & Foundations
AQSP released a pamphlet and statement in which they called for the abolition of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and an end to the discrimination against the Bedouin population (Simcox 2011). This follows similar foundations of al-Qaeda groups in other regions in which they latch onto particularly contentious ethnic relations between governments and minority ethnic groups. This was also seen in Somalia with al-Shabaab (an al-Qaeda affiliate group). These two groups (AQSP and al-Shabaab) follow a similar methodology and history in that they were set up in an attempt to gain local ethnic support for Salafist and jihadist causes.
This support for minority ethnic groups such as the Bedouin tribe stems from the discrimination that the ethnic group suffered following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which the Egyptian government believed that the Bedouins had collaborated with the Israeli army (Melik 2012). The exclusion of the Bedouin tribe from the Sinai region's development in economic terms has, over time, led to the Bedouins becoming involved with organised crime and more importantly smuggling of narcotics and even explosives (Gleis 2007). The contentious relationship between the Sinai province and the central Egyptian government has, over time, enabled terrorist stakeholders such as AQSP to gather and cement objectives preying on problems and negative relations between parties with vested interests in the area.
Objectives and Ideology
AQSP has several objectives within the Sinai province, which range from the creation of an independent Islamic emirate in the Sinai to the introduction of strict sharia law and the end of discrimination against the Bedouin population. This emphasis on independence for the Sinai region and the call to end discrimination by the Egyptian government seems to suggest that ideological elements of the main Bedouin population have been radicalised and implemented by AQ and that they are, as mentioned previously, attempting to gather larger amounts of support from the affected minority populations in the Sinai (Simcox 2011).
Military & Political Abilities
The military capabilities of al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula are extensive and revolve around similar tactics to other groups present in the region, including the local ISIS cell known as ISSP (Islamic State Sinai Province) and also AQSP’s component groups, such as Ansar al Sharia (Joscelyn 2012). This involves small arms attacks against the military forces of Egypt and Israel who are present in the Sinai province following Israeli military intervention in the area to “protect its insecure southern border” (Amer 2019). However, the group has more frequently been accused of using IEDs to increase the lethality of its attacks on police and military forces. Another aspect of AQSP’s military capabilities is that – since 2018 – it is believed that ex-Egyptian army officers had defected and joined the group. This poses a major problem and security threat for the Egyptian army in their efforts to combat the insurgency (Reuters 2018), as an increase in veterans within the group could allow the organisation to gain large amounts of crucial military training, as well as organisational improvement.
Approach to Resistance
AQSP has an extremely violent and coordinated approach to its resistance against the Egyptian state, which involves the aforementioned attacks on the Egyptian military and police forces. These attacks on the Egyptian police force have included the killing of 16 policemen in Egypt’s Western desert in an ambush (other sources tally the number as high as 52 police officers) (Mohamed Hassan and Tolba 2017). Another way in which AQSP approaches its ideological battle is through attacks on the pipeline which transports natural gas from Egypt to Israel (Roggio 2011a). This shows a willingness for the group to not only target the state forces of Egypt, but also to yield the capabilities to disable a major economic function of the state.
International Relations & Potential Alliances
Apart from being linked to the main al-Qaeda organisation through its swearing of allegiance (undertaken in 2011), AQSP has several notable links to other insurgent organisations which operate in and around the Sinai. One of these is the Mujahideen Shura Council. Although not related to the Mujahideen Shura Council which is present in Iraq, the MSC present in the Sinai released a video in 2012 praising the IED attack on a vehicle used by Israeli construction workers in which one person died (Roggio 2012). Similarly to other al-Qaeda offshoots present in other regions, AQSP has also come into conflict with the Islamic State and their affiliates. For instance, Jund al-Islam (one of the component members of AQSP), stated that it has the power to “uproot” ISIS following an attack on ISIS fighters in 2017 in which a number of the ISIS fighters were killed (Green 2017). This seems to show more evidence of a pattern of conflict between the rival Islamic insurgent groups, in which AQ will combat and come into conflict with ISIS in the regions in which they operate to gain influence amongst the local population.
Works Cited (MLA-style)
Amer, Dr Adnan Abu. 2019. “Dimensions of Israeli Role in Egypt’s Sinai.” Egyptian Institute for Studies. January 8, 2019. https://en.eipss-eg.org/dimensions-of-israeli-role-in-egypts-sinai/.
Gleis, Joshua. 2007. “Trafficking and the Role of the Sinai Bedouin.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. June 21, 2007. https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/trafficking-and-role-sinai-bedouin.
Green, R. 2017. “Sinai – a New Arena for the Ongoing ISIS-Al-Qaeda Rivalry.” MEMRI. Middle East Media Research Institute. December 4, 2017. https://www.memri.org/reports/sinai-%E2%80%93-new-arena-ongoing-isis-al-qaeda-rivalry.
Joscelyn, Thomas. 2012. “Ansar al Sharia Egypt Founder ‘Honored to Be an Extension of al Qaeda’ | FDD’s Long War Journal.” Www.longwarjournal.org. November 27, 2012. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/11/ansar_al_sharia_egyp.php.
Melik, James. 2012. “Sinai Bedouin ‘Left out of Region’s Economic Development.’” BBC News, November 12, 2012, sec. Business. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19267223.
Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed, and Ahmed Tolba. 2017. “New al Qaeda-Linked Group Claims Responsibility for Major Egypt Attack.” Reuters, November 3, 2017, sec. Media Industry. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-security/new-al-qaeda-linked-group-claims-responsibility-for-major-egypt-attack-idUSKBN1D30K0.
Reuters. 2018. “Egypt’s Ex-Army Officers Pose Growing Security Threat.” Reuters, January 30, 2018, sec. Emerging Markets. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-security-military-insight/egypts-ex-army-officers-pose-growing-security-threat-idUSKBN1FJ1V8.
Roggio, Bill. 2011a. “Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula | FDD’s Long War Journal.” Www.longwarjournal.org. November 13, 2011. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/11/egyptian_police_arrested_the_h.php.
———. 2011b. “Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula Announces Formation | FDD’s Long War Journal.” Www.longwarjournal.org. December 22, 2011. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/12/ansar_al_jihad_in_th.php.
———. 2012. “Mujahideen Shura Council Calls Attack in Israel a ‘Gift’ to Zawahiri and al Qaeda ‘Brothers’ | FDD’s Long War Journal.” Www.longwarjournal.org. July 30, 2012. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/07/egyptian_jihadist_gr.php.
Simcox, Robin. 2011. “An Emerging Threat: Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula – Analysis.” Eurasia Review. August 31, 2011. https://www.eurasiareview.com/31082011-an-emerging-threat-al-qaeda-in-the-sinai-peninsula-analysis/.