Egyptian Jihadist Group May Have Joined ISIS; Has Up to 2,000 Fighters

egypt explosion
People and security officials walk and look as smoke rises from a tourist bus in the Red Sea resort town of Taba in the south Sinai, February 16, 2014. An explosion on a tourist bus in Egypt's Sinai peninsula killed three Koreans and the Egyptian driver on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said, an apparent turning point in an Islamist insurgency that has gained pace since an army takeover in July. |

Although Reuters reported Monday night that one of the most prominent jihadist groups in the Sinai Peninsula region of Egypt has pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State caliphate, confusion remains as to the extent of the groups' connection as The Institute For the Study of War claims the reports of allegiance are false.

Reuters reported that the terrorist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or "Partisans of Jerusalem", issued a statement Monday night saying that the group is loyal to the Islamic State and also labeled ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph (Muslim prince) of all nations.

"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.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which consists of about 1,000 to 2,000 fighters, has been established in the Sinai region since the Egyptian revolution began against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. The group is thought to be behind most of the military activity in the Sinai region. The group has stepped up its military operations against Egyptian security forces in recent months, as other Sunni insurgent violence has spread in the Middle East.

The Egyptian government had to issue a three-month state of emergency in the North Sinai region last week after a jihadist attack killed 33 security forces. Although Ansar did not claim responsibility for the attack, Reuters reports that the group had carried out similar attacks in the recent past and that the group had previously sought inspiration and insight from the Islamic State.

Early on Monday, it was reported by the mediterranean news site ANSAmed that ISIS had released a statement claiming that the terrorist group, most prominent in Iraq and Syria, had established its "caliphate" in Sinai region of Egypt and that caliphate was the "first step toward "invasion of Jerusalem."

Although the authenticity of the Monday statement was not verified, Israeli Radio reported Egyptian security officials announced on Sunday that they had monitored communications where Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis asked the Islamic State leadership to send trained jihadists to help carry out terrorist attacks.

Even though the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis statement of allegiance to ISIS was first reported by a trustworthy news source such as Reuters, Aaron Reese and Jantzen Garnett of The Institute For the Study of War wrote in an opinion piece that they believe that Reuters' report is false and that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis had not sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.

"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," the article stated. "Skepticism is merited in this case, as we assess that the report is false. This is not the first time that false statements have been attributed to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, and this probably false report may be related to the group's recent prominence in conjunction with the suicide attack targeting Egyptian security forces in the Sinai."

The Institute for the Study of War article states that it is interesting to note that the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis statement of allegiance refers to the ISIS leader as "Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi" not "Caliph Ibrahim", like ISIS propaganda claims his official name to be.

"Its veracity is doubtful given that it has not been posted by an official account of the group, surprising for a statement so apparently major in importance," the article states. "No other media outlets have been able to verify the statement either, and have instead used Reuters as the source."

Although the reports may or may not be true, Reese and Garnett opine that the spread of their alleged statement could cause Ansa Bayt al-Maqdis to "declare its allegiance one way or another."

"While there are other possible explanations for the silence of the group's Twitter page, the quick spread of this statement may have the interesting and possibly unintended effect of forcing ABM to declare its allegiance one way or another – either to deny the statement or to own it," the article states.

Northern Sinai Governor Abdel-Fattah Harhoor told Al Arabiya News that although insurgents are using ISIS tactics, the government has not found evidence that ISIS has established a "militancy" in the Sinai Peninsula.

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