The most recent issue of Al-Nabaa, the Islamic State’s weekly online publication, includes an interview with someone alleged to be the leader of the Soldiers of the Caliphate in Egypt. This may suggest a new Egypt-based branch of the organization, independent of its Sinai-affiliate Province of Sinai, has been established.
The unidentified man referred to Province of Sinai militants as brothers, stating: “We have a brotherly, loving and loyal relationship with the Soldiers of the Caliphate in Sinai, and we are all the soldiers of the Islamic State in Sinai and in Egypt. We fight to make the work of God the highest.”
That the alleged leader’s name was not mentioned is atypical of IS media, which usually identifies fighters.
In addition to addressing the group’s relation to Sinai militants, the interview focused on the targeted attacks on Coptic Christians and churches and included a call for civilians to join the organization’s ranks.
Research fellow at George Washington University’s program on Extremism Mokhtar Awad told Mada Masr that featuring the interview as a main article on Al-Nabaa reflects the Islamic State’s intentions to propagate its operations in Egypt and attract more followers.
“This interview should be understood in the context of the organization’s desire to destabilize the country internally and escalate its operations, to spread the understanding that IS has an effective presence in other major Arab countries after the ongoing defeats in Syria, Iraq and Libya,” he said.
For Awad, the fact there are active cells in the Nile Valley is not news. However he notes that the interview “is a notable development with the clear announcement of the organization and a leader for it.”
He added: “It is worth noting that the interview openly called for the targeting of Coptic Christians. It is important to mention here that since the bombing of the St. Peter and St. George church in December, the secret channels run by IS have increasingly called for personal attacks against Copts.”
In the interview, the alleged leader of Soldiers of the Caliphate in Egypt stated that “targeting churches is part of our fighting, and our war with infidelity and its people.” He claimed that the police crackdown immediately following the recent targeting of churches had a “positive impact” on the fighters.
He called on Muslims to join the ranks of the organization and to carry out more attacks against Copts.
The group previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdes (ABM) pledged allegiance to IS in November 2014, changing its name to Province of Sinai, which was accepted by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdady via a recorded message.
The following period saw an attacks against Armed Forces and police personnel in Sinai intensify, and a crackdown by Egyptian authorities. In addition to ongoing attacks on military personnel, attacks on Copts have increased. The organization killed seven Copts in Arish, North Sinai in February alone, pushing 70 Coptic families to flee to the nearby governorate of Ismailia.
The Islamic State’s activities outside Sinai also intensified with the bombing of the Italian Consulate which killed one, and injured seven others. The organization also bombed two churches in Tanta and Alexandria earlier this month during Palm Sunday celebrations, killing and injuring dozens of Copts.