December 12, 2013 | Policy Brief

Egypt’s Sinai Goes Quiet… For Now

December 12, 2013 | Policy Brief

Egypt’s Sinai Goes Quiet… For Now

By David Barnett

On November 20, a car bomb attack by the Salafi jihadist group Ansar Bayt al Maqdis targeted a convoy of buses transporting Egyptian security personnel in North Sinai. The attack, one of the bloodiest since the overthrow of the Morsi regime in early July, killed 11 Egyptian security personnel and wounded more than 35. In response, Egypt’s army spokesman Ahmed Ali declared that the attack “strengthens our resolve to cleanse Egypt and shield its sons from violence and treacherous terrorism.”

Since then, violence in the Sinai has been on the decline. In fact, between November 21 and December 9, there were just five reported attacks in the peninsula. By contrast, between November 1 and November 20, there were 27 reported attacks. Egyptian officials are now crowing that “the elimination of terrorism in the Sinai” is imminent.

Cairo may be jumping the gun, however. While Egyptian security forces have purportedly arrested and killed a number of Salafi jihadists in recent weeks, many others, such as Shadi el Menai, remain free.

Moreover, there may be another reason for the decline in attacks. Recent press reports suggest that some Sinai jihadists have fled to the Nile Delta, Mersa Matruh (on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast), and the Gaza Strip. While officials may claim this proves they are succeeding in “cleansing” the Sinai, the fact that these jihadists are not being captured or killed leaves open the possibility that they will regroup and return. They could also choose to conduct attacks from their new locales, which could include bolder and bloodier attacks.

It is also worth noting that although there have only been five reported attacks since November 20, authorities have thwarted at least five others. On December 4, for example, security forces foiled a plot targeting a watchtower in Rafah. On the same day, authorities neutralized explosive devices intended for army vehicles traveling near el Arish. And, on December 8, authorities thwarted two large-scale bombing attacks in North Sinai. A video purporting to show Egyptian forces firing upon one of the vehicles stopped on December 8 showed a massive explosion that could have easily produced many casualties.

Egyptian security forces have vowed tenacity in their fight against Sinai’s jihadists. And while security services have succeeded in keeping the casualty count down since November 20, a serious threat persists. Indeed, as Ansar Bayt al Maqdis recently warned, the war may have only just begun.

David Barnett is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.