Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula

In a report for The Jamestown Foundation, Andrew McGregor writes:

In the absence of police and government security forces, al-Qaeda-sympathetic movements, including al-Shabaab al-Islam (The Youth of Islam), have formed in the Sinai Peninsula. The demands of these Salafi-Jihadist groups reflect both local and regional concerns. Among their demands are calls for a full implementation of Shari’a, the revocation of Egypt’s treaties with Israel, the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in the Sinai and Egyptian military intervention against Israel on behalf of the Palestinians in Gaza. Despite a statement proclaiming the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, core al-Qaeda has not yet acknowledged this new chapter of the movement. Sinai-based militants have repeatedly targeted a natural gas pipeline to Israel in a show of distaste for Arab-Israeli relations and to strike a symbol of the corruption of Mubarak’s regime. These attacks and the recent storming of a police station by armed militants in the regional capital of al-Arish have alarmed Cairo, which has lost control of the region since security forces fled Bedouin attacks in the January revolution. In response to these developments, Egyptian security forces have returned to the Sinai, though there are conflicting accounts of whether their mission will be solely defensive or directed at eliminating the militant threat. The size and armament of the deployment is limited by restrictions imposed by the Camp David Accords signed with Israel. The long standing alienation of the Sinai Bedouin from the rest of Egypt and the growth of a radical Salafist movement influenced by like-minded groups in Gaza have combined to pose a serious challenge to a regime that is handcuffed in its response.

The one area of Egypt that appeared ready to explode into violence during last January’s revolution was the Sinai. Unlike the unarmed, peaceful demonstrators that filled the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, the Bedouin tribesmen of the Sinai were well armed and already engaged in a low-level conflict with Egyptian authorities over a number of issues, including Bedouin smuggling activities, a traditional occupation that has lately become politicized through Bedouin interaction with radical Islamists in Gaza, the end-user of the weapons the desert dwellers are shipping to Sinai’s eastern border. Possibly the only reason a large-scale conflict did not break out in Sinai at the time was the flight or desertion of nearly all the police and security forces based in Sinai after a number of attacks on police stations. Now, however, after a growing number of acts of militancy and the release of an alarming video allegedly depicting the formation of an al-Qaeda-sympathetic movement in Sinai known as al-Shabaab al-Islam (The Youth of Islam), Egypt’s security forces are back, this time accompanied by a significant military presence. [1] The release of the video and a subsequent statement followed an attack on an al-Arish police station in northeast Sinai and the fifth attack this year on a pipeline supplying natural gas to Israel

An August 2 pamphlet distributed in al-Arish entitled “A Statement from al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula” displayed a mix of local and regional concerns, demanding an Islamic Emirate in the Sinai, an end to the exploitation of Sinai’s wealth by non-residents, the full implementation of Shari’a, an end to discrimination against the Bedouin, the revocation of Egypt’s treaties with Israel and Egyptian military intervention on behalf of the Palestinians in Gaza.

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