The radical Islamist Ansar Bait al-Maqdis ("Supporters of the Jerusalem Temple") took responsibility last month for 11 terrorist attacks in Egypt since December 24. They killed 28 people, including 26 Egyptian soldiers and members of the security forces.
This organization’s main target now is not the Temple in Jerusalem but the Egyptian military as will be seen by its attacks:
* A police compound in Mansoura was bombed Dec. 24, 2013, claiming at least 16 lives, including 14 police officers.
* Two Grad missiles were launched against Israel’s southernmost town of Eilat on Jan. 20, 2014, without causing damage or casualties.
* An attack on an Egyptian police checkpoint at Beni Suef on Jan. 23 left 5 police officers dead.
* Five bomb blasts hit Greater Cairo on Jan. 24 and 25, four occurring the day before the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and the fifth coming on the day itself.
* Ansar Bait al-Maqdis took responsibility for shooting down an Egyptian military helicopter over Sinai on Jan 25 killing five soldiers
* The group also claimed the assassination of an aide to Interior Minister Gen. Mohamed Al-Saied. Tuesday, Jan. 28.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis’s long tribal reach from Sinai across borders
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis consists of no more than 10,000 armed men, a drop in the ocean compared with the Egypt’s powerful army of around a third of a million soldiers.
Led by Abdallah Al-Ashqar, it operates out of the remote Jabal Halal in central Sinai, known in anti-terror circles as the “Tora Bora” of Sinai. Counterterrorism experts have wondered how this comparatively small band of terrorists managed within a short period to turn itself into a major menace for Egyptian military and security targets spread across wide distances and, moreover, capable of putting at risk the shipping transiting the Suez Canal day by day with a third of the world's oil supplies.
This group has also managed to put Israel and its armed forces in the position of hostage to Egyptian counter-terror offensives for cutting it down.
DEBKA Weekly's counterterrorism sources have come up with five answers:
1. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis maintains the bulk of its fighting strength in Jabal Halal and the small northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid. The Bedouin tribes which are its backbone, some of whom subscribe to radical Salafism and are affiliated to al Qaeda, have long arms, which reach across national borders to members sprinkled widely across Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
Bedouin tribal terrorists – here, there and everywhere
Mainland Egypt – and Cairo in particular – is home to many Tarabin tribesmen from Sinai. In two months of counter-terror operations, the Egyptian army killed 20 terrorist commanders, most of them Tarabin. Their kinsmen who lived in Cairo did not need to travel far to avenge their deaths.
2. A large concentration of these tribesmen is to be found in the big Suez Canal coastal cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. Over the years, they moved in from Sinai as cheap labor and gradually took over technical tasks related to the canal’s operating systems as well as maritime jobs as pilots on tugs and cargo vessels.
Readily available to Ansar Bait al-Maqadis, therefore, is good field intelligence plus handy vehicles for speeding them to their targets and getting them away before Egyptian security forces reach the scene.
3. Ansar Bait al-Maqdis has set up its logistical headquarters in Gaza which is ruled by the Palestinian Hamas. New estimates place 1,200 fighters in this enclave.
4. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has throughout its history maintained an underground arm known as the “secret apparatus.” After the Brothers rose to power in 2012, they assigned two top leaders, Deputy Head and treasurer Khairat el-Shater and Interim Leader Ezzat Khairat al-Mahmoud with reorganizing this apparatus for two alternative tasks.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s “secret apparatus” spearheaded form Sinai
One was to defend the Muslim Brotherhood regime from external enemies as a sort of IMuslim presidential guard, independent of the national army and intelligence.
The other was to prepare the secret apparatus as the underground for an armed struggle to restore the Brotherhood to power in the event of its ouster by the army
DEBKA Weekly's intelligence and counterterrorism sources report that El-Shater and Ezzat agreed that if their movement was overthrown, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and its Sinai strongholds would spearhead the resistance.
Some security officials in Cairo say this group was Al-Shater's brainchild, for which he supplied the funding and arms to get it started up. They also assert that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian offspring, Hamas was directed to establish operational links with the new Sinai-based armed terrorist group and keep it supplied with its every logistical and intelligence need.
5. Ideological and operational ties have developed between Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the ultra-radical Al-Gama'a al-Isalmiyya, tightening especially in the two years since the latter staged rampant demonstrations against the US and Israeli Embassies in Cairo.
Al Gama’a is also credited with taking part in the attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi which left four Americans dead including Ambassador Chris Stevens. It is well connected with every radical jihadist organization, whether al Qaeda, Libyan extremists or Hamas. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – and the Muslim Brotherhood – have therefore found this group to be a useful vehicle for expanding its operations into the heart of Egypt.