Islamic State’s (IS) Egypt-based affiliate Ansar Jerusalem (AJ) confirmed its leader was killed by the military near al-Arish, capital of the North Sinai Governorate, earlier this month. Our last Report noted the Army had intensified security operations in the Sinai – AJ’s stronghold – following the group’s downing of a Russian passenger plane in October 2015. It has subsequently struggled to carry out a major attack since then, with its activity largely involving smaller-scale strikes against military interests in the Sinai.
AJ will now seek to re-group following its leader’s death, and is unlikely to respond to his killing by conducting a high-profile attack in the next few weeks to avoid coming under further pressure from the security forces. However, the second anniversary of the group’s pledge of allegiance to IS falls in November and it will want to carry out an attack on a similar scale to the targeting of the Russian jet, which marked the first anniversary of its affiliation. We consequently believe there is an increased risk the group will attempt a significant act of violence, particularly as it will want to show its continued strength after the death of its leader, to reassert its credibility and build support.
The group may attempt to target tourist or economic interests in Egypt proper to further damage the economy and undermine the Government, though its ability to operate outside the Sinai is restricted by the increasingly capable security forces. Instead it is most likely to try and launch a major attack against the military in the North Sinai given that it has greater freedom of movement there and the abundance of security force targets.
Meanwhile, AJ may seek to target Coptic Christians as they celebrate their New Year on 11 September. The community angered conservative Muslims by backing the military’s removal of former Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi in July 2013, so the group may consider attacking Coptic interests as a way to win backing from hardline Islamists – though its priority remains striking economic and security targets. The threat will be greatest in religious conservative areas with a sizeable Christian population, such as Minya and Assiut Governorates, where the risk of communal unrest will also rise over the Coptic New Year period.
Finally, the Movement of the Hands of Egypt, which attempted to assassinate the former Grand Mufti near Cairo earlier this month, said that it bombed a Police Officer’s Club in Damietta on 4 September, injuring three people. The group is made up of Islamist youths who have become disillusioned with the political process following the state’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and wants to exploit growing public anger over the economy by engaging in violence. The risk of small-scale and unsophisticated attacks will therefore persist in the coming weeks. These will chiefly target state interests, though Islamist youths have previously struck against foreign firms in an attempt to deter investment and may revive this as their campaign endures.