A Sinai-based al-Qaeda affiliate group has declared its fealty to the Islamic State group, the terror organization which has taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq, Reuters reported Monday night.
The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis terror group said in a statement that “After entrusting God we decided to swear allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslims in Syria and Iraq and in other countries,” referring to the leader of IS who has declared the territory under his control to be a new Muslim caliphate and himself its ruler.
The Sinai group has carried out numerous attacks against Egyptian forces since the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last year amid massive protests against him.
It was not immediately clear what implications the announcement would have on the group’s operations. Contrary to Islamic State’s out in the open combat tactics, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has mostly employed guerilla-style attacks against Egyptian infrastructure and troops. Egyptian forces continue to maintain control of Sinai despite these occasional attacks, and the prospects of an all-out assault by the group to capture Egyptian territory for the so-called caliphate seemed remote.
The group claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a security headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura which killed 16 people, almost all policemen, in December 2013. It also claimed the attempted assassination of Egypt’s interior minister in September of that year.
Authorities say it was also responsible for the killing of 25 policemen who were bound and blindfolded before being shot dead on a Sinai roadside in August 2013. The government also blamed the group for an attack on Egyptian troops patrolling the remote western border with Libya in July, which left 22 soldiers dead. No one claimed either attack.
In January Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis released a video of its fighters downing a military helicopter over Sinai with a shoulder-fired missile, an attack that killed all five crewmembers and raised concern over the group’s growing military prowess.
The group was initially inspired by al-Qaeda, but in recent months it has expressed affinity with IS. In January, the leader of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Abu Osama al-Masri, praised the Islamic State in a recording posted on jihadi forums.
Sinai-based militants have exploited long-held grievances in the impoverished north of the peninsula, where the mainly Bedouin population has complained of neglect by Cairo authorities and where few have benefited from the famed tourist resorts in the more peaceful southern part of Sinai. The police in northern Sinai largely fled during the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, as militants attacked stations and killed scores of security forces.
Egypt has a long history of Islamic militancy. Former President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic militants in 1981, and extremists carried out a wave of attacks targeting security forces, Christians and Western tourists during the 1990s.