The majority of the attacks along the Egyptian border in the past year were the work of a single terror network, made up of Islamic extremists who identify with the ideology of Al-Qaeda, Israeli intelligence sources said Tuesday.
The sources told Hebrew media that Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Arabic for Partisans of the Holy Temple) is headquartered in the Sinai desert and enlists local Bedouins to its ranks, but that many of its members are citizens of Egypt proper and other Arab countries.
An analysis by intelligence officials of terror attacks emanating from the Sinai desert over the past year has revealed a common denominator, all pointing to one Jihadist network based in the Sinai, the sources said. These attacks include the Sept. 21 attack at the Egypt-Israel border fence that killed IDF Cpl. Netanel Yahalomi, the deadly strike on August 5 against an Egyptian military installation in Rafah, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed, the August 2011 cross-border infiltration that killed eight Israelis at Ein Netafim and several incidents of rocket and mortar fire.
According to Channel 10 senior defense correspondent Alon Ben David, the group used to have close ties to terror groups in Gaza, but has recently taken an independent track. Israeli intelligence officials no longer see the Sinai as the “back yard” for Gaza activists.
Egyptian media reported that two of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 21 attack were from the Egyptian delta, and not Sinai Bedouins as initially believed. The two were reportedly well-to-do family men, who until recently had not shown any indication of religious fanaticism. One was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of new president Mohammed Morsi, and the second recently joined the hard-line Salafi Front. Both left their homes in August, telling their families that they had gone to join the rebel forces in Syria.
Israel and Egypt coordinate security arrangements along the southern border, and Egyptian forces have taken steps against extremists operating inside the Sinai desert, including the introduction of thousands of troops, armored vehicles and gunship helicopters.
The Israeli sources indicated that they are taking very seriously threats made by Ansar Bait al-Maqdis to launch a terror attack as revenge for Israel killing a senior member of the organization in August. Israel has denied involvement in his death.