Egyptian Military Offensive in the Sinai Follows Tourist Massacre

Andrew McGregor

March 6, 2014

Egyptian security forces have responded to the latest terrorist blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry with a series of raids that have killed dozens of militants and resulted in the detention of many others.

Jama’at Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis

On February 16, a bomb on a tourist bus carrying South Koreans making the trip from St. Catherine’s monastery to the resort town of Taba killed three tourists and their Egyptian driver, while a further 13 tourists were wounded (al-Jazeera, February 16). The attack was claimed by militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem), who claimed the strike was “part of our economic war against this regime of traitors” (AFP, February 19). Tourism accounts for over 11 percent of Egyptian GDP and is an important source of foreign currency. The Sinai was the last part of the politically volatile nation to maintain a healthy tourist trade, but this has now been put in jeopardy. The bombing was denounced by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, a militant Islamist group responsible for the murder of 58 tourists and four Egyptians in Luxor in 1997 (Ahram Online, February 17).

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) is the Egyptian branch of a Gaza-based Islamist organization. Since its first appearance in the Sinai in the days after the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the group has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on oil pipelines, a strike on Israeli troops in 2012, the attempted assassination of Egypt’s interior minister in 2013 and the successful assassination of an important National Security Agency investigator the same year (see Terrorism Monitor, November 28, 2013).

The tourist bus bombing led to a number of operations as part of the ongoing Egyptian military response to radicalism in the Sinai Peninsula:

  • During the night of February 19, Egyptian Army helicopter gunships used missiles to attack houses suspected to harbor militants in the Shaykh Zuwayad area, killing at least ten people (AP, February 20).
  • On February 28, the Egyptian Second Field Army (responsible for the Sinai) reported killing six militants (including an alleged member of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) and the arrest of 14 others (Egypt State Information Service, February 28).
  • On March 1, the armed forces reported ten extremists killed and ten others wounded in the Northern Sinai communities of al-Arish, Shaykh Zuwaya and Rafah (Aswat Masriya [Cairo], March 1).

The military also continues to demolish tunnels to Gaza in the border town of Rafah

Militants in the Sinai also continue to attack another sector of the Egyptian economy – gas exports to Jordan. The gas pipeline running through northern Sinai was blown up south of al-Arish for the fourth time this year on February 25 (al-Arabiya, February 26). Most of the bombings of the pipeline (which brought an end to gas exports to Israel in 2012) have been claimed by Ansar al-Maqdis.

This article first appeared in the March 6, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.