FILE: Egyptian military forces are attacking terrorists in Sinai during the full-scale operation dubbed Sinai 2018 - Courtesy of Egypt's Armed Forces Official Website
CAIRO – 15 February 2018: After several years of conflict between the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, Al-Qaeda emerged to the forefront in Sinai, marking a new chapter in the fierce battle between the two organizations.
A group calling itself Minbar Sinai (Sinai Pulpit) issued a statement on the group's Telegram channel on Tuesday, saying that the channel was hacked by members of the Islamic State after it released an earlier statement stressing the terrorists' defeat in the ongoing Operation Sinai 2018 launched by the Egyptian security forces.
A statement appeared on Minbar Sinai's Telegram channel that said, "We closed your channel, enemies of Allah! We will keep closing your channels whenever you create others, and we will make you shut them for fear of termination."
Minbar Sinai, believed to be linked to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam) organization operating in Sinai, posts updates about events in Sinai, complaints about the circumstances of the residents, and reports of wrongs inflicted on them by IS operations.
"We stopped our attacks during the army campaign to support our people in the Sinai while they – ISIS militants – fled like rats and abandoned their children and women. We will continue to expose this group's moldy approach," Minbar Sinai announced on alternative Telegarm channel.
The anti-IS Telegram channel published a photo that took credit for an attack targeting IS affiliates in Syria. It documented the first moments of IS militants' surrender in Idlib after their defeat at the hands of Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Al-Nusra Front.
The Islamic State has become a bitter rival of Al-Qaeda, its parent organization. Its leaders represent a new generation of Islamist militants who have broken with Al-Qaeda in a power struggle over Syria and the future of the global Islamist revolution.
Both groups share the same ultimate goal: the establishment of a global caliphate, to be ruled under a harsh brand of Sharia (Islamic law). But they clash over what strategy and tactics are best, as well as who should lead the global jihad (holy war) to build the caliphate.
Operation Sinai 2018
Egypt launched Operation Sinai 2018 on Friday in the North Sinai, Central Sinai, Nile Delta and the Western Desert along the porous border with Libya. The operation showed the high efficiency of the Egyptian military and police in combating terrorism threats, without causing any danger to residents. The military operations were even heartwarming to the civilians, who praised the good treatment they experienced from the officers and soldiers, who are spread in the villages of Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah and seized control of the area.
The operation came in response to the Rawda mosque attack near Arish, which killed at least 313 and injured dozens in last November. The attack is deemed to be the deadliest in Egypt’s modern history.
Army spokesman Colonel Tamer el-Refai announced in a strongly worded televised statement Friday morning that the military and police forces were initiating a large-scale security operation. He said that, in addition to the northern Sinai Peninsula, this will involve actions in the Nile Delta, Central Sinai and the Western Desert along the porous border with Libya, strongholds of a persistent Islamic State group insurgency that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police.
Operation Sinai 2018 is targeting “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations”, Refai said. He did not say how long it would last, but said that it involved land, sea and air forces. The air force has launched attacks against militant hide-outs in North and Central Sinai, and the navy has tightened control of the waterways to cut off supply lines, he said.
Meanwhile, a source from the Interior Ministry told state agency MENA that the country has raised the security alert to its highest level nationwide, in light of the “fierce war” by the police in coordination with the armed forces to eradicate “the roots of terrorism.”
According to the source, security measures in the vicinity of major state institutions, houses of worship and tourist hotspots have been intensified.
Sinai has been in a state of insurgency following the ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Militants and the security forces have been caught in a crossfire that led to the killing of hundreds from both camps. The state has been attempting to regain control over afflicted North Sinai, along with securing Copts, as security forces in the area have been widely targeted over the past few years.
Additional reporting by Hesham Al-Sorogi