How Egypt’s Sinai has be­come a ter­ror hot spot

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By ADAM TAY­LOR The Wash­ing­ton Post

THE SINAI Penin­sula once had a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the Egypt’s most at­trac­tive places to visit as a for­eign tourist, of­fer­ing world-class re­sorts, rugged land­scapes and in­cred­i­ble div­ing. But in re­cent years, a se­quence of vi­o­lent at­tacks have shaken the sparsely pop­u­lated re­gion and given it a rep­u­ta­tion as a ter­ror­ism hot spot.

Fri­day Novem­ber 24’s at­tack in Bir al­abd will only reaf­firm that idea. At least 235 peo­ple are be­lieved to have been killed, ac­cord­ing to Egyp­tian state tele­vi­sion. If that death toll stands, Fri­day’s at­tack will be­come the dead­li­est ter­ror­ist at­tack in Egyp­tian his­tory.

Ac­cord­ing to data from IHS Jane’s, there have been more deaths from ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Sinai this year than there had been in any other coun­try ex­cept for Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and So­ma­lia — all of which have pop­u­la­tions at least 10 times larger than Sinai.

Cru­cially, not all of Sinai has been equally af­fected. Most re­cent at­tacks have been cen­tred on the east­ern­most part of the North Sinai area, ac­cord­ing to Zack Gold, a non-res­i­dent fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil’s Rafik Hariri Cen­tre for the Mid­dle East. Bir al-abd is out­side the tra­di­tional zone of conflict in east­ern North Sinai and is closer to Ar­ish, the largest city on the penin­sula. Wi­layat Sinai, a prom­i­nent in­sur­gent group that pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State in 2014, has re­cently been push­ing to ex­pand its ter­ri­tory to­ward the cen­tral part of Sinai and stag­ing at­tacks in other parts of Egypt.

“One thing that the group has been try­ing to do as it claims to be a prov­ince [of the Is­lamic State] is at­tempt­ing to take — or at least show — some kind of ex­pand­ing author­ity,” Gold said. “This at­tack doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily show that Is­lamic State has the author­ity over the area, but that the Egyp­tian state lacks author­ity.”

The tar­get­ing of a Sufi mosque is also note­wor­thy. Sinai has a very long his­tory of in­sur­gency in the his­tor­i­cally law­less penin­sula, but up un­til very re­cently, at­tacks in Sinai have tended to tar­get po­lice or the mil­i­tary rather than civil­ians: Since July 2013, at least 1,000 mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces have been killed in at­tacks in the penin­sula, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the Tahrir In­sti­tute for Mid­dle East Pol­icy.

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