How Egypt’s Sinai has become a terror hot spot
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.