As a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, Egypt has played an integral role in helping to combat the region’s terrorist threat, particularly since Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi came to power in June 2014. However, Egypt is facing a daunting terrorist challenge of its own, primarily in the lawless Sinai Peninsula where ISIS’ Sinai affiliate and other militant groups roam freely and execute frequent attacks against Egyptian military and security personnel.
Although the Egyptian military has battled a persistent terrorist presence in the Sinai for years, the peninsula’s Islamist insurgency gained momentum in 2013 after then-General Sisi, commander of Egypt’s armed forces, ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi and arrested thousands of brotherhood supporters. Through such moves, “the Sisi-led government pushed literally millions of people on the ground to look towards extremism,” says Rob Richer, Cipher Brief expert and former Associate Deputy Director for Operations at the CIA.
ISIS’ Sinai branch took the world by storm in October 2015 after claiming responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane, Kogalymavia Flight 9268, killing all 224 people on board. Originally known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the group has been active in the Sinai Peninsula since 2011 and pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in November 2014, assuming the name Sinai Province.