The New York Times reports from Cairo: Within months of the military takeover here two years ago, a little-known group calling itself Ansar Beit al-Maqdis managed to penetrate rings of checkpoints and heavy security to carry out a string of startling attacks, assassinating a senior police official at his home near here and blowing up a security headquarters here and in Mansoura, Egypt.
They were inside jobs. The Egyptian authorities concluded that the group had received crucial advice from two policemen, Lt. Mohamed Eweis and Col. Sameh el-Azizi, who were among a series of military and security officers the group eventually recruited.
Now the same group, operating as the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, is the prime suspect in yet another inside job: The bombing of the Russian charter jet that exploded last week in midair over the desert north of Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, which killed all 224 people aboard. British and American officials say they believe it increasingly likely that the group planted the bomb before takeoff.
No government has confirmed that the Sinai Province has taken responsibility. But the group has eagerly claimed it and others in the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have celebrated — positions that reflect drastic changes in both the Islamic State and the Sinai Province since the Egyptian unit first pledged its allegiance one year ago. Attacks by the Sinai Province, previously a mostly Bedouin group that focused mainly on fighting the Egyptian security forces, have quickly grown in sophistication and bloodshed. If its role in bringing down the plane is confirmed, the Sinai Province may have even momentarily surprised and surpassed its vicious parent, and, some analysts said, risked a broad backlash against the Islamic State itself.
If the militants in the Sinai found an inside man who could help bring down a Russia-bound jet, “did the ISIS guys in Syria say, ‘Sure, why not? The more enemies the merrier?’ ” asked William McCants, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” a study of the group. “Or are they just celebrating it after the fact, so they don’t look out of the loop on such a major attack?”
The parent group, based in Raqqa, Syria, has much to lose by approving or even embracing the apparent bombing, he argued. Although supporters of the Islamic State are calling the jet’s crash retribution against Russia for its intervention in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, Mr. McCants noted that the Russians had mostly attacked Western-backed rebel groups that were foes of the Islamic State.
“Russia has been hitting their enemies for them,” Mr. McCants argued. “I can’t imagine the guys in Raqqa want Russia to go all in against them.” [Continue reading…]
TASS reports: Russian Aerospace Forces have made 137 sorties over last three days and delivered airstrikes at 448 infrastructure facilities of terrorists in Syria, Russian Defense Ministry official spokesman Igor Konashenkov told journalists on Monday.
“Over the last three days, Russian jets made 137 sorties in the Syrian Arab Republic and destroyed 448 facilities of terrorist infrastructure in the provinces of Aleppo, Damascus, Idlib, Latakia, Raqqa, Hama and Homs,” Konashenkov said. [Continue reading…]