Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A new jihadist map

Ahmed Eleiba analyses the ramifications of recent clashes between extremists affiliated to Al-Qaeda and IS


A new jihadist map
A new jihadist map

In a three-minute voice recording released at the beginning of this week Jund Al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), a terrorist group in Sinai, claimed responsibility for an attack against members of the Islamic State (IS) affiliate known as “Sinai Province”. A few days earlier the militants opened fire against several IS members, killing them all.

Jund Al-Islam demanded Sinai Province hand over four of its commanders named in the recording. The recording then lashed out against the IS-affiliate in Sinai, describing its members as “Al-Baghadi’s gangs”, a reference to the self-proclaimed IS caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and Kharijites, a term that originated in the first century of Islam and was used to refer to members of a radical renegade movement.

Kharijites has come to be used by various takfiri groups to disparage other takfiri groups as apostates. Al-Qaeda used it against Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis in Sinai when Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis declared allegiance to IS in 2014 and renamed itself Sinai Province.

Jund Al-Islam first came to attention in September 2013, soon after the dismissal of Mohamed Morsi, when the Qaeda-linked Shumukh website posted a video clip claiming responsibility for a bomb attack against the military intelligence building in Rafah. The clip made it clear the group, unlike many others, had not thrown in its lot with Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.

Jund Al-Islam resurfaced in August 2015 with another video clip of its training drills and an attack against armoured vehicles in Sinai. A brief statement by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri featured on the video, confirming that the group had kept its distance from IS and remained close to Al-Qaeda. This was confirmed in October 2015 when a video about Jund Al-Islam was posted featuring Hisham Ashmawi, the officer discharged from the Egyptian army for his takfiri leanings who became the leader of Morabitoun, an Al-Qaeda affiliated group that split off from Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis when the latter declared its allegiance to IS.

In the latest recording the group’s hostility towards IS is more explicit. Jund Al-Islam accuses “Al-Baghdadi’s gangs” in Sinai of obeying “Al-Baghdadi’s law” and not Islamic law, rendering them Kharijites. It then vows to eliminate IS from Sinai. 

Elsewhere the recording denies Sinai Province’s claim that Jund Al-Islam is a product of Sinai tribal groups who have declared their support for the Egyptian army.

Mohamed Gomaa, an expert on terrorism and terrorist groups at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies explains: “Jund Al-Islam did not join Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis or IS though there had been an understanding between it and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis not to escalate their rivalry. However, tensions erupted in February 2016 when it was reported that IS had abducted some Jund Al-Islam members. Although there were attempts to renew the understanding two or three months later it did not last as recent developments clearly demonstrate.”

The recording is significant in terms of the rhetoric used between the antagonistic jihadist groups: the branding of Sinai Province as “gangs”, the appeal to Sinai Province members to “repent and relinquish their obedience to Al-Baghdadi’s Shariah”, and the threat to “uproot that renegade group from Sinai if it does not renounce its sins and errors and bow to the law of God rather than the law of Al-Baghdadi”.

As Brigadier General Khaled Okasha put it, “the group that calls itself Jund Al-Islam characterises IS as a weakened organisation that can be easily targeted.”

The timing of the Jund Al-Islam recording is noteworthy. It comes at a time when the IS mother organisation has been defeated and driven out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq and when its branch in Sinai has sustained debilitating blows at the hands of the Egyptian army.

The timing may also be linked to the recent incident in the Bahareya Oasis area involving Ansar Al-Islam, another Al-Qaeda affiliate. Jund Al-Islam’s strike against the IS affiliate in Sinai may be intended to convey the message Al-Qaeda is on the rise again and that it has the power to sweep the carpet from beneath IS.

So far Sinai Province has not issued a response to Jund Al-Islam’s attack but experts anticipate escalating conflict between the two sides. Ali Bakr, an expert in Islamist movements, told Al-Ahram Weekly: “The recent clash between takfiri organisations in Sinai is likely to be a harbinger of further conflicts as hostilities escalate, locally and regionally, against a backdrop of IS’ growing weakness of IS. The changing affiliations of extremist organisations suggest a new map of jihadist Salafist organisations is being formed.”

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