ISIS’s ‘most potent’ crew is now in Sinai — and says it bombed Russia’s jet

The Daily Beast reports: Soon after Russian planes began dropping bombs on Islamic militants in Syria a month ago, in an effort to prop up the country’s embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad, ISIS vowed that Russia, and by extension its citizens, would be a target. Last Saturday, Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 departed Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and flew directly over the homebase of an ISIS affiliate with the ambition, and perhaps the capability, to make good on that threat.

The growing fears that an explosive device may have brought down the airplane, killing all 224 on board, stems in part from the rise of the ISIS affiliate in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula.

Over the past four years, the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s branch in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula has grown into a formidable threat. It “is one of the group’s most active and potent ISIL affiliates,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told The Daily Beast, using an alternative acronym for the group.

The branch, which calls itself the Islamic State of the Sinai, or Wilayat al Sinai, has twice claimed responsibility for taking down the Russian airliner, most recently on Wednesday. But it hasn’t offered any of ISIS’ trademark evidence, such as martyr statements or videos of the plane crashing. Rather, the group said essentially: “Trust us, we did it.” And that only added to the mystery about how the plane came down.

U.S. officials said this week that some intelligence points to ISIS or its affiliate in Sinai as having detonated bomb on the Russian airliner, though the Obama administration has yet to publicly make that claim, and scant evidence has been put forward.

If Wilayat al Sinai turned its sights on foreign citizens, it would mark a significant evolution in ISIS’ regional strategy, from gobbling up territory to launching attacks on civilians beyond its holdouts in Iraq and Syria. It would also stand as one of the deadliest attack by a terror group since 9/11, and the first successful attack since then against civilian aviation. [Continue reading…]

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