How Sinai became a launchpad for Egypt’s deadly ISIS affiliate

The Guardian reports: Grey jeans, black trainers and a surface-to-air missile were all that could be seen of the man waiting under a tree for an Egyptian military helicopter to fly past in early January 2014. He fired and the aircraft tumbled to the ground, a moment captured on video by the group that would become Isis Sinai Province, and released in triumph soon after.

The attack served notice to the Egyptian military and the rest of the world that Sinai’s Islamist insurgents had stepped up their ambitions and their capacities, drawing weapons and inspiration from the region’s other spiralling conflicts. If last week’s explosion on board a Russian Metrojet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh proves also to have been their work, those ambitions have reached a new level.

Cairo has long struggled to control the sparsely populated expanses of the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamists have found refuge with smugglers, criminals and others keen to escape too much official scrutiny. But until little over a decade ago, it was a place militants went to hide, train and plot, not somewhere they carried out attacks.

A shift in ideology, the fallout from a government crackdown, and chaos in neighbouring states have transformed the area from dangerous haven to conflict zone. Factions have united into a group with unprecedented access to funds and weapons, and which has become the most ambitious Isis franchise outside Syria or Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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