In the aftermath of the military coup that ousted former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi earlier this month, Islamist militants have gained strength in the Sinai, the desert peninsula between Israel and the Suez Canal. Angered by the fall of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies, these militants have been using jihadi chat forums and other forms of social media to encourage Sinai residents to rise up against the new Egyptian government.
Now the Egyptian military is fighting back, having reportedly launched an operation known as Desert Storm in an effort to squash the militants, who since the coup have reportedly killed more than 20 soldiers and police officers. Israel has also reportedly moved an Iron Dome missile battery to the city of Eilat, which borders Sinai.
Just hours after the coup against Morsi on July 3, Vocativ discovered this video, which shows an extremist in Sinai calling for war against the Egyptian armed forces. “Go away from North Sinai,” the man says, in reference to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian military. “We are the mujahideen.”
The man also urges the young people, or “shabab,” in his audience to fight “the police, the military and the intelligence.” The crowd appears to number in the hundreds, and many in attendance are cheering and waving the black flag of jihad. “We are not peaceful anymore,” they chant in unison.
Another video, which was posted on YouTube on July 8, features Sheikh Hani Abu Shita, an extremist in Sinai who allegedly kidnapped six Egyptian soldiers in May in an effort to force the government to release his brother from prison. In the video, the sheikh, surrounded by the flags of the Islamist militant group, Ansar al-Sharia, urges hundreds of Sinai residents to fight against the Egyptian military. Ansar al-Sharia, which has Libyan origins, created an Egyptian branch in the Sinai to retaliate against Morsi’s ouster.
In recent weeks, there has reportedly been a spike in attacks in Sinai, a largely lawless region long considered to be a haven for smugglers and kidnappers. Last Wednesday, a car bomb exploded near a police base, killing four alleged militants who were in the vehicle. Earlier this month, the Egyptian Special Forces also reportedly arrested 14 members of a jihadi cell.
Outside of Sinai, other Islamist militant groups have been demanding that jihadis take on the Egyptian government. Recently, for instance, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for dabbling with democracy and called for “victims and sacrifices” to make sure Egypt becomes an Islamic state.
Just how many people will heed the various calls for jihad remains to be seen. But apparently the Egyptian military views the threat as serious enough to justify a military operation.