Egyptian officials are worried that they are seizing only a fraction of the weaponry entering the Sinai Peninsula from Libya. And in contrast to earlier arms shipments, which were destined for the Gaza Strip, the final destination for many of the recent weapons shipments is the Sinai itself, where Salafi jihadists have a growing presence.
“Not all the weaponry flowing into Libya is going to the Gaza …. The Egyptians are becoming alarmed that weapons are now being stockpiled by Egyptian Salafi groups. They are starting to uncover arms trafficked from Libya in the [Nile] Delta and believe other weapons are being stored in Sinai. It is making them very nervous,” a European diplomat recently told Voice of America.
According to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), “hundreds” of high quality weapons from Libya and Sudan, including long-range rockets and advanced antitank and antiaircraft missiles, ended up in Gaza through the Sinai in 2012. And over the past few months, Egyptian authorities have seized numerous weapons in and en route to the Sinai and Gaza Strip, including short-range rockets and antiaircraft and antitank missiles.
On Jan. 7, Egyptian authorities foiled a car bomb plot in the city of Rafah, near Gaza. Following the Rafah incident, Egyptian authorities issued a security alert for the Sinai as intelligence services received information about potential attacks by extremist groups in the Sinai.
On Jan. 11, an Egyptian army officer was killed by a sniper “seemingly affiliated to extremist groups” in el Arish in the Northern Sinai. On Feb. 15, Egyptian authorities announced the seizure of two tons of explosives headed to the Sinai from Cairo. Two days later, Egyptian authorities seized a weapons cache in el Arish. “The seized weapons include 21 anti-aircraft shells, six anti-tank mines and an anti-aircraft gun,” an official said. In another incident on Feb. 17, one ton of explosives was found in a car headed from Cairo toward the Sinai.
Four days later, a military spokesman said the Egyptian Armed Forces “will continue to carry out their assignments in Sinai until all tunnels in Rafah are destroyed and all terrorist hotbeds eliminated.” On Feb. 27, Egyptian authorities seized 60 antitank missiles south of Cairo that were being transported in two pickup trucks from Libya. Yesterday, a cache of weaponry, including antitank mines, was seized by authorities in el Arish.
In addition to concerns over weaponry flowing into Egypt, US intelligence sources indicate that “contacts have increased in recent months between Al Qaeda-linked Jihadists and more localized Salafist groups in Sinai and the Egyptian Delta region,” Voice of America reported.
Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, a number of Salafi jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda have sprouted up in the Egyptian Sinai. The terror groups have conducted attacks against the Egyptian military and policemen, Israel, international peacekeepers in the Sinai, and a pipeline transporting natural gas to Israel and Jordan.
According to the Shin Bet, elements of the “global jihad” are using the Sinai as a base to wage terror attacks against Israel. Western officials estimate that at least several hundred jihadists, some of whom are from Yemen and Somalia, are now operating in the Sinai. Egyptian officials have also expressed concern that militants from Algeria and Libya are now operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
Israeli intelligence believes that most of the attacks originating in the Sinai have been carried out by Ansar Jerusalem, also known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. At least two members of the Ansar Jerusalem cell that carried out the group’s attack on Sept. 21, 2012 that killed one Israeli soldier were educated middle-class Egyptians from the Nile Delta, and not Bedouins from the Sinai.
In recently revealed communications between Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, the head of the Nasr City terror cell, and al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, Jamal said that he had formed “groups for us inside [the] Sinai.” As Thomas Joscelyn noted in an LWJ report last month, this was an “especially interesting revelation given that some jihadist groups there have openly proclaimed their allegiance to al Qaeda.”
In December 2011, a group named Ansar al Jihad in the Sinai Peninsula announced its formation and pledged to “fulfill the oath” of Osama bin Laden. Then in January 2012, Ansar al Jihad swore allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri. “To our beloved emir and honorable sheikh, Abu Muhammad Ayman al Zawahiri … from your soldiers in the beloved Sinai in the Land of the Quiver [Egypt], we give you allegiance for obedience in good and bad, in difficulty and ease, and altruism,” Ansar al Jihad said, in a statement obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
A few months later, the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), a consolidation of Salafi jihadist groups, announced that its June 18, 2012 cross-border attack, which killed one Israeli civilian, was “a gift to our brothers in Qaedat al Jihad and Sheikh Zawahiri” and retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden. In February, the MSC released a martyrdom video for one of the two members of the cell behind the June 2012 attack, Khalid Salah Abdul Hadi Jadullah, portraying him as an al Qaeda martyr.