Four days after Egyptian security sources claimed to have killed at least eight Islamist militants in the Sinai, sources today said that the army conducted another major operation. Egyptian security officials claimed that 15 militants were arrested and another 30 were either killed or wounded.
Today’s operation in the Sinai was said “to be the biggest of its kind in recent years in Sinai,” the BBC reported. “Around 2,500 soldiers and officers from the army, police and central security forces took part in the operation,” Xinhua reported based on comments from a security source. In addition, “[a]ll telephone and internet service provider networks operating throughout Northern Sinai were shut down during the operation,” according to Daily News Egypt.
An unidentified military official told the Associated Press that the operation involved tanks and helicopters and that “dozens” of militants had been injured or killed. Security sources told Reuters that 30 people had been killed or wounded. A statement from the army’s spokesman said 9 militants had been killed.
Today’s raids reportedly targeted around 12 villages in the Sheikh Zuwaid area and “[c]louds of smoke could be seen rising from the villages,” Ma’an News Agency reported.
“This is by far the largest operation we have seen and the one we have been waiting for,” One tribal leader told the AP.
“Starting today, you will not hear of attacks on army or police checkpoints as before. They either have to flee or get arrested,” Sheikh Hassan Khalaf said. A security official similarly told Ma’an News Agency that the plan is to “clean all the villages in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid area from dangerous terrorists.”
Today’s operation was conducted two days after an assassination attempt on Mohammed Ibrahim, Egypt’s interior minister. Security officials told Reuters that those behind the attempted assassination are linked to the Islamist militants operating in the Sinai.
Thus far, no evidence has been presented by Egyptian authorities to support their claims of jihadist deaths from operations conducted last week or today. Nor have jihadists announced the deaths of any fighters from either operation. In fact, in a statement released to jihadist forums on Sept. 4, al Salafiyya al Jihadiyya charged that the Egyptian army was lying about its recent operations in the Sinai Peninsula.
Additionally, this past week a number of reporters tweeted about their belief that the army exaggerates about the successes of their operations in the Sinai. “When you go to Al Arish everyone says the operations are jokes,” a Wall Street Journal reporter tweeted. A reporter with the Global Post similarly said, “it’s true … they exaggerate or fabricate SOME sinai operations.” “[T]estimonies from residents/eyewitnesses in area have often been at odds with the state version of events,” another journalist added.
Charges that Egyptian authorities are lying about operations in the Sinai are not new. Following the August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers at a military outpost in Rafah, Egyptian forces claimed to have carried out massive operations against jihadists in the Sinai. Reports soon emerged of the falsity of much of what the military was claiming, however. As one NPR reporter stated: “We found that a lot of that huge military operation was actually quite fictional. We couldn’t really find evidence of these major attacks. A lot of the reports of militants being killed were really exaggerated.”
Since the ouster of Mohammed Morsi on July 3, there have been near-daily attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, which have left dozens dead. On Aug. 23, the Egyptian army claimed that recent operations by Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula have led to the deaths of 78 militants. Thirty-two of those killed were said to be non-Egyptians.
Along with the increase in attacks in the Sinai, there have been a plethora of statements from jihadists in response to the ongoing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari (also known as Muhammad al Murshidi), an official in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), recently charged that the Egyptian government was seeking “to return Egypt to the era of oppression, tyranny and the domination of the security and intelligence agencies.”
On Aug. 17, jihadist ideologue Abu Sa’ad al ‘Amili posted a series of tweets to his Twitter account urging Egyptian Muslims to prepare for an “open war.” Likewise, Abdullah Muhammad Mahmoud of the jihadist Dawa’at al-Haq Foundation for Studies and Research warned Egyptian Muslims, in an article posted to jihadist forums on Aug. 14, that “if you don’t do jihad today, then only blame yourselves tomorrow.”
Similarly, on Aug. 15, Abu Hafs al Maqdisi, the leader of the Gaza-based Jaish al Ummah (Army of the Nation), called on Egyptians to wage “jihad” against Egyptian army commander General Abdul Fattah el Sisi. Four days later, al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, urged Egyptian Muslims to “pick up arms and defend yourself.” In addition, on Aug. 30, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant called on Egyptians to wage ‘jihad’ against army.
And on Aug. 22, al Salafiyya al Jihadiyya in Sinai released a statement that called on Muslims to fight the “apostate” Egyptian army. The communiqué was particularly notable as last fall the group said: “[T]he army and the police are not our targets and that our weapons are directed at the enemies and the enemies of our Ummah the Jews.” More recently, in mid-May, the jihadist group said: “[T]he target of the Salafist Jihadist current in Sinai is the Zionist enemy and its operations are directed to them, and the Egyptian soldiers are not a target for us.”