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Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis announces 'pledge of allegiance' to IS

A voice recording posted to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis's Twitter account said the group have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis have carried out numerous attacks against state targets in North Sinai (AFP)

A militant group based in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), has pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) organisation in Iraq and Syria, according to a recording posted on its Twitter account on Monday.

In the 9 minute 26 second recording, a man identifying himself as from the group’s “information department” said ABM had given its loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"We announce our pledge of allegiance to the caliph Ibrahim Ibn Awad […] to listen and obey," the audio recording said, referring to Baghdadi. “We call on all Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the caliph and support him.”

The Sinai based group has carried out numerous attacks against Egyptian state targets, killing scores of police officers and soldiers, as well as conducting cross-border attacks against neighbouring Israel.

It had previously expressed support for IS, but stopped short of pledging its allegiance before Monday, even denying it last week – a move Sinai experts said was indicative of a split within the group.

It is unclear whether Monday’s decision will see a change in the group’s tactics.

Analysts said Monday’s announcement demonstrated a preference for “loyalty and ideology over rational and strategic decision-making”, explaining the decision could result in ABM losing local support in Sinai.

“This will hurt ABM among the Sinai population if it takes away from what has been a local focus - they have always positioned themselves as a defender of the local population,” said Zack Gold, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies. “But the group – at least parts of it – really believe in the IS ideology. ABM did have fighters in Syria who trained with IS and gained skills they brought home. Over time we have seen an increase in their violence and proficiency.”

In August it emerged ABM had beheaded four Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula, after accusing them of providing Israel with intelligence leading to an airstrike that killed three of their fighters.

On 25 October, the Egyptian government declared a three-month state of emergency in North Sinai, after 33 security personnel were killed in two bombings.

Interior ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif told AFP the announcement would make no difference to Egypt's fight against the militants.

"They are just different names for the same terrorists," he said.

The Egyptian army has been criticised for its military campaign in North Sinai, in which they have begun to demolish hundreds of houses along the border with Gaza to implement a buffer zone with the Palestinian coastal enclave – authorities say militants use tunnels there to smuggle weapons used to attack Egyptian state targets.

Local residents told MEE last week the house demolitions are “collective punishment” against the civilian population.

Sinai analyst Gold said the ABM pledge would provide Cairo with the opportunity to “portray themselves as part of the anti-IS coalition.”

“Since the beginning of the anti-IS coalition the Egyptian government has made an effort to say that this isn’t just about Iraq and Syria, but that there is a jihadi problem right across the region including Libya and Sinai,” he said. “This [the ABM announcement] strengthens their argument – that said, the Egyptian government’s sense of sovereignty means we are unlikely to see military operations from the anti-IS coalition in Sinai.”

“But we are likely to see more surveillance and intelligence cooperation, as the Egyptian military carry on with their operations in Sinai.”

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which means Partisans of Jerusalem, was formed during the security vacuum that followed the overthrow of long-time president Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

The group expanded its operations after the June 2013 popularly-backed military coup that overthrew Egypt’s first freely elected president Mohammed Morsi.

It has said it wants to implement Islamic law, and avenge those killed in the crackdown that followed Morsi's overthrow.

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