Senior figures in jihadist groups that identify with al-Qaeda are hiding out in the Gaza Strip under the auspices of Hamas, Egyptian sources confirmed to The Times of Israel in a phone call Thursday, noting that their presence in the Palestinian territory was the source of current tensions between Egypt and Hamas.
According to information held by authorities in Israel and Egypt, some of the fighters hiding out in Gaza were involved in an August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in an outpost near the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel.
There are 15 main terror groups currently operating in the Sinai Peninsula, all of which identify, in one way or another, with al-Qaeda’s brand of global jihad. Four out of the 15 are considered the most dominant and have close contacts with terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
The most veteran of those groups is Jish Al-Islam, or the “Army of Islam,” which is based in the Gaza Strip but has many branches in Sinai. That group is responsible for the supply of weapons to other terror organizations in the peninsula and military training of their jihadist members, conducted in Gaza, from where they return to Sinai.
Their leader, Mohammed Dormosh, is well known for his ties to the Hamas leadership. Egyptian ire was raised during the Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the Ramadan fast, after Hamas released from prison in Gaza a few central terror operatives identified as members of jihadist groups who were arrested by the organization itself a few months earlier.
Last week alone, 35 shooting incidents were recorded between the Egyptian army and jihadists in the Sinai. In the period since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime on July 3, 120 people have been killed in the Sinai Peninsula — soldiers and jihadists.
That number includes the 25 Egyptian policemen who were executed earlier this week by armed extremists in the northeast Sinai region. There is a clear trend of unrest and an increase in the fighting in the peninsula. Since that attack, the Egyptian authorities have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to send a clear message to Hamas that it must halt the activities of elements that identify with al-Qaeda.
The Egyptian army, especially following the attack this week, understands that even if it shuts down the smuggling tunnels, the problem in Sinai will not disappear. As long as the security forces are unable to subdue the leadership of the armed groups and quell their motivation, terror attacks in the peninsula will continue.
Egypt is fortunate that the jihadists in Sinai are not yet coordinated. There is no body that directs the fighting against the Egyptian army. On the other hand, it is harder to hit at a horde of bodies that have many arms rather than a single head.