The Province of Sinai carried out multiple attacks last week on a number of Egyptian and Palestinian targets.
The group claimed responsibility on Friday for an operation the previous day in which four men were killed on the Qantara-Arish International Road in the area of Sebeika, west of Arish. The four men were ambushed at a checkpoint set up by armed militants, who opened fire on their vehicles. A military corporal, a military conscript, a policeman and a member of the Sahwat group died in the attack. Also known as Battalion 103, the Sahwat group is an armed civilian troupe that collaborates with security forces in North Sinai to fight armed militants in the area.
The gunmen searched passing vehicles and checked passengers’ IDs at the makeshift checkpoint, according to a security source, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity. The military personnel and the policeman were riding in one car, and the fourth man was one of two members of the Sahwat group riding in another car behind them, as per the source.
A worker at the nearby Nasr Salines Company said the checkpoint was set up by Province of Sinai gunmen as others simultaneously stormed the company headquarters. “The checkpoint was set up to protect the gunmen who stormed the company. Those manning the checkpoint gave heavy truck drivers — who transport packaged salt from the company to the port of Arish — flyers to warn them of [the consequences of] their work and prompt them to quit,” the worker said.
Mada Masr obtained a copy of the warning note. Under the title “Admonishment and Commandment,” the Province of Sinai made a threat that would be carried out if glass sand and salt continued to be exported out of Arish. “This is a forewarning to the owners of trucks that are used for the transportation of raw materials,” the statement read, asserting that these materials are exported to states that “antagonize and work against the state of Islam,” and are sold “for the benefit of the Egyptian regime.” The statement concluded with the pledge, “We shall fight apostates and infidels everywhere by any means possible.”
This is not the first time the company and its employees have been targeted. Armed members of the Province of Sinai also stormed the company headquarters in August 2017, setting up a checkpoint nearby and kidnapping three of its employees.
Later the same month, Province of Sinai militants dumped the severed heads of two of the three people who had been kidnapped from Nasr Salines Company in Attalawy Square in Arish.
Last Friday, another severed head was found in Attalawy Square. An eyewitness told Mada Masr, speaking on condition of anonymity, that gunmen riding in a private vehicle unloaded the contents of a large jute bag and left the contents in the middle of the square at around 8 pm. Upon closer inspection, this turned out to be the head of a Fawakhariya tribesman, one of Arish’s major tribes. According to the witness, it seemed as though the man had been beheaded with a blade.
Another source who works at Nasr Salines Company said that the company has been experiencing difficulty transporting its products, especially via ports, which are completely dependent on heavy-duty trucks. According to the source, things were made worse by the curfew, with limited working hours at the port and lengthy processes required to load cargo. Some ships are forced to sit at sea for days, sometimes weeks, before they are allowed to enter the port, he added.
International exports are lucrative for the company and are paid for in dollars, according to the source. Should they stop, the company’s operations would come to a complete halt and approximately 700 workers and employees would lose their jobs.
In August 2017, the Province of Sinai gave drivers who move cargo for the military’s cement factory in mid-Sinai a warning. They also made threats to those working on roads that are operated by the Armed Forces’ Engineering Authority.
By October, these threats were carried out. Several pieces of heavy machinery were set on fire at a paving site, and equipment that was being transferred to the Armed Forces’ cement factory were targeted.
In November, nine drivers were killed and their vehicles set on fire on the Hasna–Baghdad Road in mid-Sinai. The drivers were headed out of Sinai on their way back from the military cement factory. The incident compelled the Armed Forces to put in place new measures to secure the factory and its drivers, in an effort to eliminate any adverse effects on production and sales.
Last week saw the Province of Sinai also fielding attacks against more than its Egyptian targets.
On Wednesday, the group published a video in which they described the Palestinian Hamas group as “the Gazan sect of disbelief,” and its members as “apostates” who follow earthly and democratic laws instead of God’s law, in relation to their alleged cooperation with Egyptian security forces, reconciliation with Palestinian authorities and cooperating with the Iranian regime. The video incited Gazan citizens against Hamas, urging people to: “Destroy their courts and security headquarters, and fight the devil’s supporters.”
Posted on the group’s affiliated Telegram channels and websites, the video, titled “Abraham’s Denomination,” shows the killing of a Province of Sinai member for allegedly smuggling weapons to Hamas.
The main speaker in the video, identified as Abu Qasem al-Maqdisi, recited the decision issued by what he called the Province of Sinai’s “Islamic Court of Law” to kill a man identified as Moussa Abu Zummat for allegedly smuggling weapons to the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. Shortly afterwards, footage of a man being shot by an armed man can be seen in the video.
According to an Al-Qaeda affiliated Telegram channel — Membar Sinaa (Sinai Platform) — Maqdisi is the Province of Sinai’s judge on Islamic law for the Arish area. The channel, associated with the Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, said that he was one of the perpetrators of the Rawda Mosque attack in November, which killed 305 people west of Arish.
Mada Masr confirmed Maqdisi’s identity as a Palestinian document holder through information obtained from sources in the General Administration of Civil Status in Gaza. He was born in 1992 and is registered as residing in Gharbiya Street in the Palestinian city of Rafah.
An archive of military operations in the area, compiled by a research group, reveals that his brother, Mohamed Adel al-Zamly, was killed in October 2016 while fighting for The Province of Sirte, part of Islamic State-affiliated forces in Libya.
The channel of militant group Jund al-Islam also added that the man who carried out the execution of Abo-Zummat is referred to as Abo-Aisha and is the son of a Hamas leader.
In December, Mada Masr published an account of Palestinian fighters in Sinai, many of whom are defectors from Hamas.
Progress in Palestinian reconciliation efforts accelerated at the beginning of last October, as the President of the National Unity Government Rami al-Hamdallah arrived in Gaza to assume his duties as the prime minister of the state of Palestine in the presence of diplomats and Egyptian General Intelligence officials. Negotiations between Hamas and the Egyptian security apparatus have advanced in recent months.
An explicit form of Palestinian-Egyptian cooperation took place last June, when Hamas started to create a 100-metre deep buffer-zone along 12 kilometers of the Egyptian-Palestinian border. Hamas also sought to install security cameras and lighting networks to strengthen border control and to deter infiltration processes into the area.
This marked the end of a process that Egypt began when creating a buffer zone on the Egyptian-Palestinian border in October 2014.
The Province of Sinai had published a video last September stating, “We stress that the recent agreements between Egyptian General Intelligence Service and Hamas’ apostate leaders to crack down on jihadists and place them under siege in the blessed land of Sinai, will be futile. Our next moves will be greater; what we promised yesterday is being delivered today. To Hamas’ apostates working with the Egyptian security forces, we say hands off our soldiers, for the future will only be worse.”