Jihadists used two suicide car bombs in “near-simultaneous attacks” against Egyptian security installations in the Sinai Peninsula this morning. Six security personnel were killed and 17 others wounded, including seven civilians, the army’s spokesman said in a statement released on Facebook.
Some press reports have indicated a higher death toll. The Associated Press reported that nine people had been killed.
According to the AP, one bombing “brought down a two-story building housing the local branch of military intelligence, while the other struck an army checkpoint.” The remains of the two bombers were recovered, the AP added.
Today’s attack was not the first suicide attack against Egyptian security installations in the Sinai. On Aug. 27, a suicide car bomber targeted “a security facility” in the Sinai, according to Al Monitor.
Following today’s attack, Egyptian authorities closed the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, Ma’an News Agency reported.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, “[o]fficials believe that the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group were behind the attacks,” according to Ma’an News Agency. In a statement posted to jihadist forums on Sept. 8, Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) took credit for the Sept. 5 assassination attempt on Egypt’s interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim.
The statement also threatened retaliation against Egyptian security forces. It specifically noted that the group was prepared to target Mohammed Ibrahim and Abdel Fatteh el Sisi, and urged Egyptian Muslims “to stay away from the installations and headquarters of the Ministries of Defense and Interior, so as to preserve their souls and proper.” The Sinai-based jihadist group further called on Egypt’s Muslims “to come together around their mujahideen brothers in their war against those criminals.”
Today’s attack comes amid an ongoing crackdown by Egyptian security forces on Islamists militants operating in the Sinai. On Sept. 3, officials said that at least eight militants had been killed in operations in the Sinai. Four days later, Egyptian security officials claimed that 15 militants were arrested and another 30 were either killed or wounded. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Egyptian forces had killed 29 militants in the past four days.
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.”
Ansar Jerusalem is thought to be behind most of the recent attacks originating from the Sinai, according to Israeli intelligence. The group, which is said to recruit within Egypt and abroad, has claimed credit for a number of attacks against Israel over the past year, including the attack on Sept. 21.
The deadliest attack was the Aug. 18, 2011 assault on a bus traveling near the border with Egypt in Eilat, which resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis and at least seven terrorists. Three Egyptian security personnel were also accidentally killed in the crossfire. In addition, Ansar Jerusalem has taken credit for a number of attacks against the Arish-Ashkelon natural gas pipeline as well as a number of rocket attacks against Israel.
On Oct. 15, 2012, the group threatened to attack Israel for the targeted killing of Abu al Walid al Maqdisi, the former emir of the Tawhid and Jihad Group in Jerusalem, and Ashraf al Sabah, the former emir of Ansar al Sunnah. The two men were said to be leaders of the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem.
On Jan. 11, a video released by Ansar Jerusalem stated: “Here in Egypt, the fortress of the Ummah, the light of victory has begun to shine, and the light of dawn has appeared in the horizon. The Ummah has begun preparing for the moment to attack the occupying entity and get rid of its evil.”
In March, the group issued a statement during President Obama’s visit to Israel, which it called a “cancerous tumor.” The jihadist group said that the visit’s timing “has important implications” and accused “America and the Crusader West” of intervening in the so-called Arab Spring “to change the natural direction of these blessed revolutions, and prevent[ing] the Muslim peoples from achieving their true freedom and implementing their Islamic Shariah.”
More recently, on Aug. 9, four members of Ansar Jerusalem who were preparing to fire rockets towards Israel were targeted and killed. On Aug. 10, Hussein Ibrahim Salem al Tihi, from the Tiyaaha tribe, and Yusri Muhaareb al Saraarkah, Ibrahim Khalaf al Munei’I, and Muhammad Hussein al Munei’i, all from the Sawaarkah tribe, were buried following an extensive funeral procession. Some of the slain jihadists were wrapped in al Qaeda flags, while vehicles in the procession had the black flags attached as well.