Shady al-Menaei, head of the militant Islamist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes (Jerusalem Brigades), was killed in a drive-by shooting in Sinai along with three other leading members of his group, reported the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) on Friday.
The circumstances surrounding Menaei’s death are unclear. Some security sources said police forces set up an ambush for the militants as they attempted to carry out an attack on a gas pipeline, reported Agence France-Presse. But conflicting accounts suggest the men were shot by members of a local Bedouin tribe or other unknown assailants in a vendetta killing.
The Associated Press quoted unnamed security officials as saying that 15 assailants armed with machine guns sprayed Manaei’s car with bullets in retribution for the death of one of their tribesmen, who was purportedly killed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdes members after he collaborated with police forces against the militant group.
However, Ansar Beit al-Maqdes denied Menaei’s death.
Violent assaults on security forces in the restive Sinai Peninsula have been on the rise since 2011, and rapidly intensified last year in the aftermath of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi’s removal from power. Also on Friday, in a separate incident one police officer was reportedly killed and two others injured in an armed attack on a security checkpoint in the border town of Rafah. The assailants have not been identified.
Operating primarily out of Sinai since 2011, Ansar Beit al-Maqdes has been linked to the Al-Qaeda network, although the nature of the relationship between the two groups is unclear. In April, the group was classified as a terrorist organization by Egypt, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdes purportedly emerged shortly after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, and gained notoriety early on for a series of bomb attacks targeting pipelines delivering natural gas to Israel. After Morsi’s ouster on July 3, the group allegedly took its actions to the mainland, coordinating a series of lethal attacks targeting police and army personnel.
The group has claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, the bombing of the Cairo Security Directorate, a deadly assault on a tourist bus and several other attacks on police stations and security checkpoints. Security forces claim Ansar Beit al-Maqdes’ operations have claimed the lives of at least 200 soldiers and officers.
While the government has drawn connections between the extremist group and the recently banned Muslim Brotherhood organization, which was also declared a terrorist group in December, the Brotherhood has publicly distanced itself from Ansar Beit al-Maqdes and has issued several statements condemning its actions.
Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) — another militant group that has perpetrated attacks on security forces since January, at times seemingly in collaboration with Ansar Beit al-Maqdes — has also been linked to the Brotherhood by state officials, but again the Brotherhood has denied any affiliation.
Ajnad Misr was designated a terrorist organization on Thursday.
The sources of funding for Ansar Beit al-Maqdes and Ajnad Misr are not known.