A group of at least ten ISIS operations and intelligence officers, led by a senior commander, has arrived in Sinai and taken charge of the local Ansar Beit al-Maqdas jihadis, thereby opening up a dangerous new front against Egypt and Israel, in proximity to the Suez Canal, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, DEBKAfile’s exclusive counter-terror sources report.
Their identities are not known, but their relocation from Iraq to the Egyptian peninsula was carefully arranged. They came posing as tourists coming for a holiday at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, arriving on charter flights from Middle East and European locations on fake passports. This enabled them to evade the strict security checks at Cairo international airport.
By assuming command of the local Ansar Beit al-Maqdas terrorist group, which last month pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has moved to add Sinai as a new province to the caliphate he established in parts of Iraq and Syria.
In recent weeks, our counter-terror sources reveal, Islamic State tacticians have provided the Sinai outfit in with a strategic reserve by posting 300 combatants from Iraq to eastern Libya. This group also supplies the Egyptian contingent with arms.
Egypt therefore finds itself encircled by IS forces on its western border from Libya and deeply threatened from the northeast in Sinai; whereas Israel faces the same jihadi menace in the southwest from Sinai and in the north from Syria.
On arrival in Sinai, Islamic State commanders announced their movement’s mission had been overhauled and redirected from Egypt alone to the “Egyptian-Zionist alliance.”
One of their first tasks will be to counteract recent Egyptian military successes in broadening their penetration of the peninsula’s Bedouin tribes and so inflicting heavy losses on Ansar Beit al Maqdas.
Israel finds itself outflanked by the new IS deployment in Sinai. The IDF heavily built up its northern strength to meet any Al Qaeda menace from Syria to the Golan, creating the Bashan Division to fight off jihadist incursions. In the event, the IS’s Syrian units have given the Israeli border a wide berth and are focusing on fighting in northern and eastern Syria.
And so, while preparing to tackle Islamist encroachment from the north, Israel finds them cropping up along its southern border, where no comparable military buildup is in place.
Abu Bakr’s Sinai move contradicts the claims of senior US commanders that IS is on the run in Iraq after being badly hurt by US and coalition air strikes. (Last week there were no more than 31 air raids over Iraq and 15 in Syria.) All that the light US-led air campaign has achieved so far is to induce the Islamic State’s leaders to shift ground tactically from territorial expansion to defense and entrenchment.