Today in Terrorism: November 24, 2017 – Islamic State attacks in Egypt

Islamic State (ISIS) was behind some horrendous attacks in Iraq and Syria but sometimes the group’s affiliates were even more lethal.

In terrorism scholarship circles there is a lively debate about what constitutes a terrorist group (hell there is also disagreement on what terrorism is to begin with). How big does a group have to be to qualify? Does it need an obvious leadership? Does it have to have a complicated internal structure? Does it have to have a flag?

The conversation becomes a little more complicated when we add in affiliates, i.e. groups outside the main one which ‘belong’ to the mother ship. Does there have to be a concrete link? Financing? Sharing of resources? Does the larger organisation have to initiate the relationship?

Map: Long War Journal

2017 Sinai mosque attack

On some occasions we see that a bunch of guys in some hinterland ‘pledge allegiance’ to an established group like Al Qaeda (AQ) or ISIS. We tend to call these affiliates or branches of the main outfit. Both AQ and ISIS have many such entities in many countries (ISIS alone has 20, which it calls wilayat, Arabic for ‘provinces’). Does the pledge have to be accepted?

One very active and very deadly affiliate is called Islamic State in the Sinai, the peninsula in northern Egypt. It is regularly behind mass attacks in the area and in southern parts of the country.

On this day in 2017 attackers bombed a mosque in the town of Bir al-Abed in North Sinai before opening fire on fleeing worshipers. The death toll eventually hit 309, making the incident the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history. 27 children were among the victims, most of whom were Sufi Muslims. IS in the Sinai was believed to be responsible.

Damage outside the Swiss Inn hotel in the Egyptian town of El-Arish following an attack on the hotel by two suicide bombers and a gunman. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Hotel where the judges were staying (Photo: AFP)

2015 Sinai hotel attack

Two years earlier on the same day, IS in the Sinai claimed an attack on a hotel in the provincial capital of al-Arish. At least seven people were killed and 12 others injured, including two judges who were monitoring national elections. IS said it acted in retaliation for the government’s imprisonment of women. Really?? ISIS is not exactly the world’s female friendly outfit! It is more likely they were targeting officials working the election as jihadis HATE democracy.

So if you want to know where ISIS is headed post Al Baghdadi, look no further than the affiliates. Or read my book on the topic.

The Lesser Jihads: Bringing the Islamist Extremist Fight to the World (2017)

The Lesser Jihads examines conflict through the lens of Islamist terrorist groups. Bringing together in one volume different conflicts where terrorist groups are active worldwide, this text introduces the world and thinking of Jihadists while highlighting a number of seldom reported cases.