Egyptian branch of ISIS declares war on Hamas as tensions rise in Sinai

Egypt Gaza borderThe Islamic State in Egypt’s Sinai Province has declared war on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, in a move that experts say will furhter-complicate an already volatile security situation in eastern Egypt. Many observers see the group, Wilayat Sinai, as the strongest international arm of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Known officially as ISIS – Sinai Province, Wilayat Sinai was behind the 2015 downing of Metrojet Flight 9268, which killed all 224 passengers and crew onboard, most of them Russians. The same group killed 311 people at a Sufi mosque in November of last year, in what has become known as the worst terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.

Israeli sources claim that, in the past, Wilayat Sinai has had limited cooperation with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, a coastal section of the Palestinian territories that borders with Egypt’s Sinai Province. The two organizations are believed to have engaged in limited cross-border arms-smuggling, while some injured Wilayat Sinai fighters have been treated in Gaza Strip hospitals. But the two groups have major ideological differences that contribute to their increasingly tense relationship. The Islamic State objects to participation in democratic elections, which it sees as efforts to place human will above divine law. It has thus condemned Hamas’ decision to participate in the 2006 elections in the Palestinian territories. Additionally, even though it promotes Sunni Islam, Hamas is far less strict in its religious approach than the Islamic State, and does not impose Sharia (Islamic law based on the Quran) in the territory it controls. Furthermore, Hamas suppresses Saudi-inspired Wahhabism and its security forces often arrest ISIS and al-Qaeda sympathizers in the Gaza Strip. In the past month, ISIS accused Hamas of having failed to prevent America’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Additionally, ISIS is opposed to the support that Hamas receives from Iran, a Shiite nation that ISIS regards as heretical.

There are reports that Hamas has been quietly collaborating with Egypt and even Israel in recent months, in order to combat the rise of ISIS in the region. For several months now, the Palestinian group has exercised stricter control over its seven-mile-long border with Egypt. It has rebuilt border barriers that had previously been destroyed and has installed security fences and a digital surveillance system. It has also launched a public-relations effort to shame the families of young men from Gaza who have joined ISIS forces in Sinai. In response to these moves, Wilayat Sinai has publicly urged its supporters to kill members of Hamas and attack the group’s security installations and public buildings. The ISIS-affiliated group has also urged its members to eliminate members of the small Shiite Muslim community in the Gaza strip. According to experts, the decision by Wilayat Sinai to declare war on Hamas means that the group has now virtually surrounded itself with adversaries. The move may also increase informal collaboration between Hamas and the Israeli government, say observers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2018 | Permalink

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Analysis: Egyptian Islamist group is emerging as ISIS’ most powerful branch

Wilayat SinaiThrough a series of meticulously planned terrorist strikes and assassinations, Wilayat Sinai has emerged as the strongest international arm of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to some experts. Known officially as ISIS – Sinai Province, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for the October 2015 downing of Metrojet Flight 9268. All 224 passengers and crew, most of them Russians, died when the plane blew up in midair over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The incident marked the worst aviation disaster in Russian history. The same group, Wilayat Sinai, was behind last month’s attack on the Al Rawda Sufi mosque in bir al-Abed, Egypt. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 311 people, making it the worst terrorist attack in the history of modern Egypt.

According to leading Israeli defense and security expert Amos Harel, Wilayat Sinai’s most recent strike demonstrates that, aside from operational expertise, the group also possesses formidable intelligence collection capabilities. In an article published on Tuesday in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Harel focuses on the group’s assassination attempt against Egyptian Defense Minister Sedki Sobhy and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar. The attack took place on December 19 at the Al-Arish military airport in north Sinai. Wilayat Sinai guerrillas fired an antitank missile at a parked Egyptian Air Force helicopter, which had just transported the two ministers to the area. Footage of the attack, released last week by ISIS, shows the helicopter exploding after being hit by the missile. Three people died in the attack, a security guard, a helicopter pilot, and a senior aide to Defense Minister Sobhy. Although neither minister was harmed in the attack, that is not the point, says Harel, and points to the fact that the officials’ trip to northern Sinai was part of a surprise visit, which had not been announced in advance. It seems, therefore, says Harel, “that Wilayat Sinai obtained intelligence information that exposed the minister[s] to attack”.

Interestingly, the group’s membership is not large. American and other Western intelligence sources estimate that its armed nucleus consists of no more than a thousand fighters. However, Wilayat Sinai members have access to advanced weaponry, which is routinely smuggled into Egypt from Libya and the Sudan. It is thus the weaponry, coupled with advanced organization and intelligence capabilities, that makes Wilayat Sinai so dangerous, says Harel. In the past three years, the militant group has killed in excess of 1,500 people in Egypt. But as its attacks become increasingly surgical and sophisticated, Egypt may be forced to respond with increasing firepower, which could further-destabilize the volatile Sinai region. Meanwhile, Israeli security forces are preparing for the possibility of cross-border raids by Wilayat Sinai, warns Harel. The Egyptian-Israeli border region could become the next front in the war against ISIS.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 December 2017 | Permalink

UK, US see bomb behind downing of Russian airliner in Egypt

KogalymaviaInformation gathered by British and American intelligence agencies raises the possibility that a bomb may have brought down the Russian civilian airliner that crashed in Egypt last week. The Metrojet Airbus 321 left the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, heading for St. Petersburg, Russia. But it crashed in the Sinai Peninsula less than 30 minutes after it took off, killing all 224 passengers and crew onboard, the vast majority of whom were Russian citizens.

Earlier this week, Russian airline Kogalymavia, which operated the flight, said its investigation indicated that an “external influence” was responsible for the airplane’s downing. On Wednesday, the British government appeared to confirm the company’s suspicions. Britain’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Philip Hammond, told a press conference in London that the British government’s Crisis Response Committee had concluded that there was “a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft”. He added that Whitehall was suspending effective immediately all flights operated by British carriers to and from Sharm el-Sheikh.

Soon after Hammond’s comments, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed American government official saying that the US had reached the “tentative conclusion” that Islamist militants in Sinai were responsible for planting the bomb on the Kogalymavia airplane. The Americans seem to have reached this conclusion based on intercepted communications messages from the Sinai region.

Egyptian officials have rejected claims that Islamist militants were behind the plane crash, and have criticized London’s decision to suspend all flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh as unnecessary and premature. Experts in Russia have also said it is too early to draw formal conclusions about the crash. Meanwhile, the airplane’s flight data recorder has been recovered and will be analyzed by investigators in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2015 | Permalink

News you may have missed #884 (Mossad edition)

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►How Israel spies on the Sinai. Israeli intelligence services have expanded their activities in the Sinai Peninsula since the Hosni Mubarak regime fell in 2011, and along with it, the Sinai state security apparatus affiliated with the Egyptian Ministry of Interior. Israeli intelligence services often target young smugglers, attempting to pressure them into working as operatives for Israel in the peninsula.
►►Veteran Mossad operative Mike Harari dies. Israeli secret service agent Mike Harari, who played a major role in planning WRATH OF GOD, Mossad’s revenge attacks against Palestinian militants implicated in the 1972 Munich massacre of the country’s Olympics team, has died. He was 87. Harari was also involved in planning Israel’s dramatic rescue of hostages held by militants in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. He was depicted by Israeli actor Moshe Ivgy in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film “Munich”, a controversial account of the Operation WRATH OF GOD affair.
►►Mossad launches new recruiting website. The Mossad has launched a new website, in several languages, in order to recruit candidates to its ranks. The reported goal of the upgraded site is to make the organization more accessible to potential recruits in Israel and abroad, who “may not be exposed to the variety of positions available in operations, intelligence, technology and cyber, and administration”. The Israeli covert-action agency says positions are available for men and women alike.

Analysis: The war between Israel and international arms smugglers

Sinai PeninsulaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The interception earlier this week of a civilian cargo vessel in the southern Red Sea by Israeli commandos has brought to light the ongoing war between weapons smugglers and the Israeli state. The vessel, named Klos-C, was seized by Israeli forces in international waters, over 1,000 miles away from Israel’s coast. Few observers were surprised by the location of the seizure, which took place in the waters between Eritrea and Sudan. Israeli security planners consider the East African country as a major link in the complex smuggling network that supplies goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Tel Aviv has long asserted that the smuggled weapons, which usually originate from Iran or Syria, are secretly carried from Port Sudan into Egypt before eventually ending up across the border into the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by militant group Hamas.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the October 2012 Israeli air attack on the outskirts of Sudanese capital Khartoum, which destroyed an alleged illicit weapons warehouse. In May of 2012, a missile attack in Port Sudan, which was also linked to Israel, killed Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, an eminent member of the Red Sea’s Ababda Bedouin tribe, whose members have a long history of smuggling weapons and goods to and from Sudan.

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Al-Qaeda attack on Chinese ship uncovers IRA smuggling racket

Provisional IRA muralBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An attack by Islamist militants on a Chinese cargo ship has unveiled a massive smuggling racket by Irish gangs consisting of former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as Provisional IRA. The revelation has inflamed existing tensions between Irish Republican militants linked to Sinn Fein –the political wing of the IRA– and a host of smuggling gangs operating on the border areas that connect the Irish state with Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The smuggling case was originally unearthed back in July of this year, when a group of militants linked to al-Qaeda fired two rocket-propelled grenades at Cosco Asia, a Hong Kong-registered Chinese commercial vessel, which is one of the world’s largest cargo ships. The attack, which occurred as the ship was sailing through the Suez Canal, shook the maritime-security world at the time, as it illustrated the rising lawlessness of the Sinai Peninsula following the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt. Ironically, the attack literally blew the lid off a complex smuggling operation. Specifically, one of the RPG rockets struck a container that, according to the ship’s manifest, was supposed to contain furniture. Inspectors who examined the damaged container, however, found that it was full of packets of cigarettes, which were destined to a company in County Louth, Ireland. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the firm didn’t exist, but was rather a front company for a smuggling gang operating in the Irish borderlands. Shipping inspectors contacted the Gardai, Ireland’s police force, as well as customs officials in Dundalk, Ireland, who proceeded to seize the cargo in September. A subsequent police investigation found that the smuggled cigarettes, which had an estimated street value of €4.3 million, had been purchased by “a consortium” of IRA-linked factions operating in County Louth. In a new report published last weekend, Ireland’s Independent on Sunday said that the same gangs who were behind the failed smuggling operation are also involved in laundering diesel fuel throughout South Armagh in Northern Ireland. Read more of this post

Hamas ‘found tracking devices’ inside weapons bound for Gaza

Rafah Border CrossingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Palestinian militant group Hamas said on Sunday it refused to take possession of a shipment of missiles after its weapons experts discovered they contained a number of carefully hidden tracking devices. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea, which reported the story, said it spoke to a source “closely affiliated with weapons smugglers” in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who confirmed Hamas’ claim. According to Al-Youm, the weapons shipment consisted of 28 long-range missiles stolen from the arsenal of the Libyan armed forces during the uprising that led to the overthrow of Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The shipment made its way across the border with Egypt and from there to the Sinai desert, before ending up at the Rafah Border Crossing, located between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It was there that the missiles were inspected by a team from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The paper reported that one of the Hamas inspectors, a senior member of the al-Qassam Brigades, discovered a number of miniature tracking devices carefully concealed inside the missiles, which appeared to be active. Following the discovery, the Hamas team backed out of the purchase deal and abandoned the inspection site. Al-Youm also said that the Palestinian group has decided to terminate its contacts with a significant number of weapons smugglers operating in the Sinai, because of concerns that they may have been penetrated by Israeli and Egyptian intelligence. Read more of this post