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Ansar Beit al-Maqdis denies swearing allegiance to Islamic State

Analysts have criticised media reports of Egyptian militant group's pledge of allegiance
Wreckage of a tour bus that was targeted by a suicide bombing in the south Sinai resort town of Taba (AFP)

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM) on Tuesday denied reports that they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, a move that would place the group’s reach on the doorstep of both Israel and Egypt.

The denial followed a statement circulated widely on social media late Monday that appeared to show that the Sinai-based militant group pledged support for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Caliph Ibrahim, the leader of IS in Iraq and Syria.

“After entrusting God we decided to swear allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslims in Syria and Iraq and in other countries,” the statement said.

Though a number of news services have run with the story, the group's official Twitter account denied the statement, saying "the statement that has been circulating on media regarding our pledge of allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate has nothing to do with us and we urge everyone to be accurate and to report from our official sources.”

Some analyst were already quick to pour scorn on the initial reports, citing previous incidents where ABM social media accounts had been previously revealed to be fake.

An article by Aaron Reese and Jantzen Garnett for the Institute for the Study of War posted soon after the announcement questioned the veracity of the statement.

“As we have previously argued, although it is likely that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is deriving inspiration from ISIS, we are not likely to see a direct pledge of allegiance at this time,” they wrote in the article.

“ABM has historically been very tightly targeted against Egyptian security forces and Israel, and members of the group that have a strong affinity for ISIS are likely to emigrate rather than remain in Egypt – as called for by most ISIS propaganda.”

Reese told Middle East Eye on Tuesday that the poor quality of the statement was out of character for the group.

"They are generally quite professional," he said. "They release well-edited media clips and post long statements online with custom graphics, and this didn't fit that model."

He said it was hard to speculate why a fake statement might have been circulated.

"I don't know who would circulate a false statement like this, other than it is possible that it is an accurate statement that simply leaked before intended or it was an over-eager jihadist who was misinterpreted," he said.

"It is also possible that there is a desire to portray ABM as being linked to a foreign terrorist organization in order to try to explain its unusual success in targeting Egyptian forces."

Zack Gold, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, pointed out that it was not the first time a false pledge of allegience from ABM to IS had been circulated.

"Speculatively, the statement may have been circulated by an ABM faction that is trying to nudge the group into an allegiance," he told MEE. "Or by IS supporters that recognize the PR value; or by Egyptian intelligence pushing the narrative of a jihadi insurgency from Libya to Iraq."

AMB support would be more significant for IS than ABM

ABM has fought a guerrilla war against the Egypt state since its founding in 2011 following the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted longstanding dictator Hosni Mubarak.

In the wake of the June 2013 coup against the Mohamed Morsi government, the group expanded its operations and has been linked with the killing of hundreds of soldiers and police officers in the country.

Last week, the Egyptian government declared a three-month state of emergency in North Sinai after 33 security personnel were killed in two bombings.

Gold told MEE that ABM's infamous reputation in Egypt would make them a key target for IS recruitment.

"An official declaration of support would likely be more significant for IS than for ABM," he said. "Since declaring its caliphate, no major jihadi organisation has joined its cause. Having formal ABM support would be a PR "win" for IS."

However, he also pointed out that it could potentially cost ABM support in the Sinai if they were to pledge support to IS and "internationalise" their struggle.

"ABM leaders have already declared support for IS, which certainly makes it possible that the Sinai group could formally declare allegiance to IS at any time," he said, while pointing out it was "possible that ABM will never pledge its allegiance to a foreign group."

"What is clear is that, whether or not ABM affiliates with an international terror organization, the Sinai-based group is a serious threat to Egyptian security."

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