The Department of State today announced the designation of the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Bayt al Maqdis (ABM) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity. With the announcement, the U.S. became the second state, behind the U.K., to designate the group.
ABM’s violent activities against Egypt, primarily, and Israel, to a lesser extent, have been ongoing since at least 2011. Its earliest known attacks were against the Al Arish-Ashkelon gas pipeline and Israel. Over the past nine months, however, ABM has been almost exclusively focused on targeting Egypt.
Since July 2013, there have been more than 325 reported attacks in North Sinai, most of which were carried out against Egyptian security forces and assets. ABM has claimed responsibility for a number of these attacks. This includes the November 20, 2013 car bombing that killed 11 Egyptian security personnel as well as the downing of an Egyptian helicopter with a surface-to-air missile in late January.
In recent months, ABM, which sporadically fires rockets at the southern Israeli city of Eilat, has claimed credit for nearly a dozen attacks in the Egyptian mainland and South Sinai. The group, which has welcomed back fighters returning from the ongoing Syria conflict, has carried out four suicide bombings since September, killing at least 24 people and wounding more than 215. ABM’s last claimed attack was the bombing of a tourist bus in the South Sinai city of Taba in mid-February. Three South Koreans and an Egyptian bus driver were killed in the suicide attack.
Given its grizzly record of violent attacks, ABM undoubtedly meets the State Department’s criteria for a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation. While the designation sets the stage for future action against ABM’s network, it provides no new insight into the group. Indeed, much about ABM remains unclear: size, leadership, organizational structure, and ties with other jihadist groups, to name a few.
Despite the lingering post-coup tension between Washington and Cairo, today's designation offers hope that the two countries can work together on counterterrorism. This is important, as ABM appears poised for further growth, not to mention attacks.
David Barnett is a research associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Salafi jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula