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memri
November 8, 2015 No.
1201

ISIS In Sinai Increases Military, Propaganda Pressure On Egypt

By: R. Green*

This report, offered as a complimentary sample from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM),  reviews the activity of the Islamic State's (ISIS) Sinai Province. It discusses the importance of Sinai to ISIS; the increase in terror activity in the peninsula since the Sinai-based jihad group Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis officially joined ISIS; and the improvement in its military, propaganda and cyber tactics; and the growing pressure exerted by ISIS on the Egyptian government.

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Introduction

The deposing of Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi in July 2013 was a turning point for the Salafi-jihadi organizations operating in Sinai. Following his ouster, these organizations launched an all-out war against the Egyptian government and army, acting in a variety of ways to destabilize the country.[1] Especially conspicuous was the activity of the northern Sinai-based organization Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, which managed to form an effective fighting force that carried out high-profile operations in the peninsula and also gained support among parts of the local population. In November 2014, the organization joined the Islamic State (ISIS) and pledged allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. This development, and the establishment of a "Sinai Province" of ISIS, marked a significant escalation in the war of the Salafi-jihadi stream against the Egyptian government.

The "Sinai Province" (Wilayat Sinaa) is of primary importance for ISIS and its leaders, and the organization is evidently investing great efforts in honing its activists' abilities and encouraging their activity there. In their speeches, ISIS spokesmen make a point of praising the Sinai fighters and exhort them to maintain and intensify their efforts. The organization acts in Sinai ceaselessly, employing a variety of methods to destabilize the region and undermine the Egyptian authorities' control there, using means that proved effective in its war in Iraq. It also seems to have adopted a strategy reminiscent of the Idarat Al-Tawahush ("Management of Savagery") strategy, familiar among global jihad organizations (on which more below).

Graduates of ISIS Sinai training camp swear fealty to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

The upgrading of ISIS's abilities in Sinai is evident in every domain. First, there has been an improvement in its military capabilities, especially following the adoption of tactics used in Iraq. The fighters' weaponry has been upgraded, and number and effectiveness of attacks has increased. ISIS's Sinai affiliate also makes intensive use of the internet for propaganda and recruitment purposes. Being part of the larger ISIS organization, it now has access to the resources and expertise of ISIS's media apparatuses. With their help it has increased its pressure on the Egyptian army using various methods of psychological warfare. In addition, it engages in hacking operations, termed "electronic jihad". On the civilian level, the organization is acting to cultivate ties with the local population.

ISIS's activities in Sinai came to a head recently when it apparently downed the Russian Metrojet flight 9268. ISIS's Sinai province claimed responsibility for the crash on October 31, mere hours after it happened, and reiterated its claim in an audio statement released on November 4, 2015 (see ISIS Claims Responsibility For Downing Russian Passenger Jet Over Sinai  and ISIS In Sinai: We Will Disclose How We Downed The Russian Plane When We See Fit).

This report addresses the importance of Sinai for ISIS and the strategy it employs there. It also reviews the advancement in ISIS's operations and the methods it uses to pressure Egypt, including its propaganda campaign and cyber warfare.

Sinai - A Region Of Prime Importance For ISIS

The ISIS leadership attributes great importance to Sinai and directs considerable resources there, due to the many advantages the region holds for the organization. First, Sinai is part of Egypt, which is the largest and most populous Arab state and has the largest Arab army; at the same time, Egypt's control over Sinai has historically been weak. Second, Sinai is adjacent to Israel, a historic target of jihad, as well as to the Gaza Strip, a major jihadi hotspot. Additionally, the strict Salafi-jihadi ideology that ISIS espouses has been popular in Sinai for years and has many adherents among the local population. Moreover, unlike in other arenas such as Syria, Yemen and Libya, where Al-Qaeda affiliates operate alongside ISIS affiliates, Sinai is free of other Salafi and global jihad organizations that could compete with ISIS. It should be noted that the first issue of Dabiq, ISIS's English-language magazine, presented Sinai as a ideal region for jihad activity.[2]

Attack on Egyptian navy frigate

In an audio tape distributed on November 13, 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi acknowledged the oaths of fealty sworn by several jihad groups outside of the group's core territory in Iraq and Syria, and declared that he had appointed "governors" on his behalf in those countries. Among the countries Al-Baghdadi mentioned was Egypt, following the oath of fealty sworn by the Sinai-based group Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, which had joined ISIS. The identity of the governor Al-Baghdadi appointed for Sinai is unknown, but presumably he is similar in his background to the governor Al-Baghdadi appointed for Libya - an Iraqi with military and/or intelligence expertise, quite possibly a former official in Saddam Hussein's security forces and a veteran of ISIS in Iraq, who gained Al-Baghdadi's trust.[3]

Addressing his new troops in Sinai, Al-Baghdadi said: "Oh faithful men of beloved Sinai, congratulations and greetings unto you, blessed men. Congratulations to you for carrying out the duty of jihad against the tyrants of Egypt. Congratulations to you for terrorizing the Jews. What [more] can we say to you, for you have broken your sheaths, burned your ships,[4] marched through the rock, showing patience in the face of hardship and grasping the embers [i.e. remaining faithful to Islam]. Stand fast and rejoice, for Allah will grant you victory."[5]

In Al-Baghdadi's most recent speech, released in May 2015, he addressed all of ISIS's regional affiliates one by one. Sinai was mentioned immediately following Iraq, indicating its importance in his eyes. Al-Baghdadi praised the Sinai Province, saying: "I commend the lions of the Caliphate, the monotheists of the Sinai Peninsula, the mighty and defiant [fighters] who disbelieved in peaceful means and treaded the path of honor, dignity, and manliness. They refused humiliation and subservience and offered their blood and lives for their religion. How good you are! How good you are! We consider you amongst those whom the Exalted Lord described as 'men who are true to what they promised Allah' [Koran 33:23]; we consider you such, and Allah is your judge. We ask Allah the Glorified to allow us to see you in Bait Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] very soon. Terrorizing the Jews and keeping sleep from their eyes is enough to ensure your reward from Allah."[6]

Additionally, the Ajnad production company, which produces official ISIS songs, distributed a special hymn dedicated to the Sinai Province, using typical Bedouin melodies and style, which praises ISIS and its fighters in Sinai, and their war against the Egyptian army and Israel. The lyrics of the song are:

"Forward, oh soldiers of Allah, remove the damned apostasy,

"O soldiers of Allah, we have built a bastion for monotheism,

"In Sinai we live, and we reject all that is not Islam.

"We defend the banner of religion, and cry for the wound of Islam...

"We have detonated the gas agreement [between Egypt and Israel],[7] we ask for Allah's help,

"We beheaded the spy,[8] we attacked the tyrant's army,

"O traitorous Jews, be patient - you will not know safety for a single day."

ISIS Imports Iraq Strategy, Methods To Sinai

The strategy employed by ISIS in Iraq, even in its previous incarnations under Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi as the Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad group and Al-Qaeda in Iraq,[9] comprised three stages, as outlined in the book Management of Savagery, which serves as a guide for jihad groups everywhere. The book, which was posted on the internet in 2004, was written by Abu Bakr Naji, likely a pen name for Al-Qaeda strategist Muhammad Khalil Al-Hakaymah. According to the theory outlined in the book, the first stage in the operation of a jihad group focuses on a war of attrition against security forces and the creation of chaos in order to take hold of territory that the government is unable to control. In jihadi parlance, this stage is called the nikayah war - meaning sporadic attacks meant to harm and damage the enemy. These attacks are meant to cause the army to lose control of rural areas and barricade itself in the cities, which gives jihadi groups room to maneuver. The second stage involves increasing pressure on security forces to the point of complete chaos in large areas. The third stage involves the jihad group establishing itself as a kind of state in the areas it controls, and managing them exclusively.

Preparing explosive barrels for a truck bomb. From the film ÔÇ£The Assaults of the AnsarÔÇØ

Using this strategy, Al-Qaeda in Iraq initially found refuge in remote tribal areas and Sunni strongholds, from which it launched attacks in cities and towns against the security forces, its opponents in the Sunni population, and Shi'ites. (Sinai lacks the Sunni-Shi'ite dimension that has been effectively exploited by ISIS in Iraq). Later it increased attacks and bombings to weaken the control of the central regime in major cities. Growing stronger, the organization exploited the fighting in Syria and the increasing anarchy in Iraq to take control of cities and widespread territory in northern, central, and western Iraq.

Similarly, over the past decade, jihadi elements in Sinai have established themselves in remote areas, from which they launched attacks on sensitive targets in the peninsula. More recently, and especially since Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis joined ISIS and the "Sinai Province" was established, attacks have escalated and are now aimed at destabilizing northern Sinai in particular and Egypt in general. In light of the July 1, 2015 attack on Sheikh Zuweid (see below), it seems that ISIS is determined to transition from the stage of sporadic attacks to the one of controlling its own territory - in this case the Al-'Arish-Sheikh Zuwaid-Rafah triangle in northern Sinai. This territory will constitute a bridgehead for further expansion and a base for the struggle against Egypt and Israel.

ISIS fighter firing a MANPAD rocket at an Apache helicopter

Imroved Military And Operational Capabilities

At this stage, the strategy dictates a focus on the Egyptian army, as indeed expressed by the targets selected for the organization's attacks. This activity has escalated in recent months, with attacks growing more daring, large-scale and lethal, and thus having greater military and propaganda impact on the Egyptian security forces. The improvement of ISIS's military capabilities in Sinai is reflected in several ways:

Focus On Military Targets

In the past, Salafi-jihadi elements in Sinai operated against civilian and Western targets, as well as against Israel. (operations included attacks on tourist sites in Taba, Sharm Al-Sheikh and Dahab in 2004 and 2006; the attacks on the Israeli border in 2011 and 2012; the siege of the Multinational Force Mission base;[10] the gas pipeline attacks, and more). As mentioned, since July 2013 and more intensively since November 2014, ISIS has focused its attacks almost exclusively on the Egyptian military and authorities. Two noted exceptions that should be mentioned are the killing of a U.S. citizen,[11] and the kidnapping and killing of a Croatian citizen.[12]

One of the car bombs used in the attack on Sheikh Zuweid (Source: Youtube.com, July 3, 2015)

Magnitude Of Attacks

ISIS in Sinai has recently upgraded the quality of its attacks, which have become larger and more operationally complex, inter alia by utilizing methods that were successful in Iraq. On July 1, 2015, ISIS executed a large-scale coordinated attack on several Egyptian army targets in northern Sinai. The attack centered around the town of Sheikh Zuweid, one of the strongholds of Salafi-jihadis in the region located between Egyptian Rafah and Al-'Arish. It involved ISIS fighters besieging the town's police headquarters and inflicting heavy losses on military forces.[13] This operation is reminiscent of similar ISIS attacks on Iraqi cities and towns. The fact that ISIS forces were close to taking over Sheikh Zuweid, forcing the army to call in air support to beat them back, shows the significant improvement of its offensive capabilities.

Striking Quality Targets

Another notable operation took place on July 16, when ISIS managed to hit an Egyptian navy frigate off the Rafah coast with a guided anti-tank missile.[14] ISIS supporters celebrated the event and called it "the Islamic State's first naval assault." ISIS has also recently managed to destroy a substantial number of Egyptian army tanks using these missiles.

M60 tank destroyed by ISIS

Increase In Frequency Of Attacks

ISIS attacks  military and security forces positions and checkpoints on a daily basis. In April-June 2015 the media office of ISIS's Sinai Province reported more than 20 operations a month, including ambushes, sniper attacks, IEDs, mortar fire, car bombs (including trucks and tankers), anti-tank fire on APCs and tanks, assassinations, and more.[15]

Increased Training

On June 2, 2015, the Sinai Province posted still photos from a training camp featuring a class of new recruits, showing several dozen fighters in uniform training with weapons and conducting military parades. The images do not provide much information on the nature of the training or the recruits. The Sinai Province has yet to publish video of the training camp, as is common with other provinces.[16]

Improved Means

In its attacks on the Egyptian military, ISIS uses improved methods and more sophisticated and effective means. Thus, in the attack on Sheikh Zuweid, ISIS used a car bomb reinforced with metal plates - a method adopted from ISIS attacks in Iraq. ISIS also claimed it had shot down an Egyptian air force Apache helicopter with a shoulder-mounted rocket, and even posted pictures of a fighter firing the rocket and of the helicopter wreckage.[17]

Targeted Attacks On Law Enforcement

As part of the efforts to conduct a war of attrition against security forces, ISIS has focused on police forces as one of its main targets. It routinely assassinates officers and places bombs in their homes. In recent weeks, the homes of dozens of police officers in Al-'Arish have been bombed.[18] Another target marked by ISIS is members of the judiciary. On May 16, ISIS members shot and killed three judges who were driving in Al-'Arish.[19] On June 29, 2015, the Sinai Province posted a 3-minute video showing the shooting, carried out from a passing vehicle, and contrasts the so-called "corrupt" Egyptian judiciary, which operates under a "tyrannical" regime, with the just Islamic State judiciary, which is based on Islam.[20] The narrator in the video explains the justification for killing the judges: "After the Caliphate was established and the banner of jihad was raised, the mujahideen could no long let these tyrants live on safely while passing judgement using laws that are not the laws of Allah."

Upgrading Propaganda Efforts

Propaganda efforts play an important part in ISIS's battle against the Egyptian regime. These efforts have several goals:

a.  Bringing the Sinai population - both Bedouin tribes and residents of the northern Sinai cities of Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid and Al-'Arish - closer to ISIS and distancing them from the regime. This goal is attained through ISIS propaganda portraying the Egyptian military as criminals who harm and abuse the civilian population, and ISIS as a defense force that is an inseparable part of the people.

b.  Bringing Islamist circles such as the Salafis, extremist Muslim Brotherhood supporters and others closer to ISIS.

c.  Deterring the population from cooperation with the military. This goal is attained by assassinating people suspected as collaborators, publishing leaflets warning the population, defacing the businesses of collaborators, and more.

d.  Demoralizing soldiers and police officers by posting videos showing attacks on and executions of their colleagues. This method has proven to be effective in Iraq. Video series such as Salil Al-Sawarim and others played a substantial part in ISIS terrorism there and contributed to the collapse of the army prior to the capturing of Mosul and other cities.

e.  Demoralizing the regime and the public at large.

Propaganda Methods

The propaganda methods used by ISIS to achieve its goals include:

Assassination Videos

One of the main kinds of material produced by ISIS Sinai is videos showing the group "settling the score" with soldiers and security forces personnel in order to demoralize the military and police and deter them from confronting ISIS. These videos are well-known from ISIS productions in Iraq, especially the Salil Al-Sawarim series. The fact that entire Iraqi army units retreated from ISIS forces that besieged Mosul in June 2014 suggests that these films indeed have an impact. The videos Sawlat Al-Ansar [Assaults of the Ansar] and Sawlat Al-Ansar 2, produced by ISIS Sinai, document operations against the Egyptian army, suicide bombings, IEDs attacks, executions of collaborators and more. The videos feature fast-paced editing and are accompanied by famous ISIS battle songs.

On January 26, 2015, the media office of the Sinai Province published a video titled "We Swear Revenge" documenting the abduction of a police officer at an improvised roadblock and his execution by gunshot.[21] The killing is described as revenge for the abuse inflicted by Egyptian security forces on innocent civilians, especially women.

Social media are also used by ISIS supporters to pressure members of the military. Activists recently posted a banner calling on soldiers to take off their uniforms before ISIS slaughters them. The banner was posted with popular Egyptian hashtags, and also exploited a Muslim Brotherhood campaign calling on soldiers to abandon their posts and refuse conscription.

Banner posted on social media: "Remove your uniform, flee before you are beheaded with your back to the sea" (Source: Twitter.com/senainmyheart, July 2, 2015)

Egyptian soldier captured by ISIS, before his execution (Source: Mnbr.info, April 11, 2015)

Videos Documenting Regime Crimes

As part of its efforts to tarnish the image of the Egyptian regime among the Sinai population, ISIS published a series of four videos titled "Documenting the Crimes of the Egyptian-Zionist Coalition against the People of Sinai" and "Documenting the Crimes of the Apostasy Army and the Jews against Our Men in Sinai." The graphic videos show the aftermath of Egyptian airstrikes: Destroyed homes, mutilated corpses, demolished mosques, women crying. The videos also include testimony by Sinai residents who complain about these operations, which they say targeted innocent people.[22]

Tracking Down And Eliminating Spies, Collaborators

Even prior to joining ISIS, Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis was already boasting of its ability to locate agents, spies, and collaborators with the security forces. The series of videos titled "Beware of Him, He is the Enemy" show organization members placing roadblocks throughout Sinai to locate collaborators using computerized databases, raiding the homes of collaborators, eliminating collaborators, and more.

Similarly, the video War of Minds showed how ISIS activists thwarted an attempt to plant an agent in their midst and later executing him. The video shows the agent being arrested upon his arrival to a meeting point, and later a senior fighter, likely a member of ISIS internal security apparatus, guiding the agent as his speaks to his handlers on the phone.[23]

ISIS fighter guiding agent speaking to his handler

Propaganda In The Form Of Satirical Facebook Accounts

Propaganda efforts meant to harm Egyptian public morale also include satirical ISIS Facebook accounts that mock the Egyptian government, President Al-Sisi, security forces, and ISIS's Islamist rivals, and praise the organization. The page "5elafa [Caliphate] Sarcasm Society" posts memes and cartoons in Egyptian dialect, as well as materials taken from Egyptian popular culture. Thus, for example, following the July 1 attack on Sheikh Zuweid, the page posted a cartoon of an exploding APC with soldier bodies flying out of it.[24]

The "5elafa Sarcasm Society" Facebook page

Ties To Local Population

ISIS is aware of the importance of the tribes in its areas of operation, and therefore cultivates ties with them and makes sure its propaganda stresses that it works for the benefit of Sinai residents and acts to defend them against the Egyptian army, etc. This is another lesson learned from years of operating in Iraq, where the tribes sometimes allied themselves with jihad groups and at other times were their bitter enemies. However, ISIS in Sinai has yet to receive an oath of fealty from any local tribe. The organization still treats local Bedouins with suspicion, and does not hesitate to use violence against them and threaten them if they seem to pose a danger.

Welfare Activity

To promote its image as working for the benefit of the population, ISIS propaganda showcases the organization's welfare activity for needy residents. For example, this summer, before Eid Al-Fitr, the organization posted pictures showing activists distributing food packages and other items to needy families in an unnamed Sinai village.[25] The organization posted other pictures of activists handing out food to residents under the title "Distributing Aid Packages to Muslims in Areas Besieged by the Apostasy Army."[26]

ISIS distributing food to Sinai residents

To improve relations with the local population, ISIS has even said that it distributes money to residents whose homes were damaged in Egyptian airstrikes, and posted pictures showing activists handing out envelopes of cash. A statement by the organization read: "In the shadow of the fierce attack on Islam and the Muslims by the apostasy army, which bombs and destroying Muslims homes and terrorizes them in preparation for their expulsion... jihad fighters in Sinai Province beat back the aggression of the apostasy army and do all they can to compensate the oppressed and support them. Your brothers in the Sinai Province conducted a campaign to compensate those harmed as much as possible. This is an effort for the poor and a right [granted to impoverished people] in Islam."[27]

Sinai resident holding cash envelope

Threatening Sinai Bedouins

On April 17, 2015, ISIS published a leaflet warning the Bedouin tribes that anyone assisting the Egyptian army would be killed just like the soldiers themselves. The leaflet was distributed in areas inhabited by the Tarabin and other tribes. The leaflet states: "Your sons in the Sinai Province renew their threat and warning to anyone aiding the apostate army in any way, whether by supplying water, food, fuel or building materials, or even by carrying a brick to build a structure, or assisting with words, opinions, advice or knowledge that will harm Muslims in general and the mujahideen in particular. Anyone proven to have been involved in any of these [actions] or in causing them [should know] that our swords are pointed and sharp, and will not distinguish between an apostate and his helper. We will have no mercy or compassion for anyone who is proven to be involved... We renew the call on agents of the apostasy army to return to Allah and repent before the mujahideen as soon as possible. We call on Muslims to stay away from the security headquarters of the police or apostasy army, for they are legitimate targets for us."[28]

In other cases, the organization uses softer language out of an attempt to grow closer to the tribes. Recently, it distributed leaflets in northern Sinai asking farmers to coordinate with ISIS so that they would not be hurt by IEDs planted in the area.[29]

ISIS activists hands out leaflets to Tarabin tribesmen warning against collaborating with the army

Media Upgrades

ISIS information and propaganda organs make efforts to unify the look and the message of the materials produced by the various "provinces," in order to strengthen to impression that, despite the geographic separation, this is a real state with centralized management that can control large territories. Therefore, in addition to upgrading its military capabilities, ISIS in Sinai works tirelessly to improve its media and communications array.

It is possible that even prior to joining ISIS, Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis received guidance and help in this field from ISIS media activists, but recently there have been marked improvements. ISIS established a media office for the Sinai Province that operates according to the standards accepted in other provinces. The office has its own logo, like the others, and it distributes official leaflets carrying this logo and featuring visual motifs similar to those used in other ISIS provinces. Furthermore, it frequently posts photos and videos documenting its activity, which are likewise visually similar to other ISIS materials. The videos' level of production has improved and is on par with the work of other ISIS media companies. Every video opens with a black screen with the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate," followed by the logo of the Sinai Province accompanied by visual effects, as is common in videos by other ISIS provinces. The uniformity indicates close ties between media activists in Sinai and experienced ISIS media experts. The quality of videos made in Sinai - including some made prior to the official establishment of the Sinai Province - suggest that raw footage may have been sent to be edited and polished by central media organs in Syria or Iraq.

Increased Social Media Presence

Joining ISIS also provided Sinai jihadis access to the distribution network of the organization and its supporters on social media. ISIS supporters on Twitter use the Sinai Province hashtag, along with other ISIS hashtags, to give material wider reach. In fact, the Sinai Province media array uses Twitter as a main distribution tool for publications, videos, and propaganda. The province's media activists operate an official Twitter account that posts news on events in the province and in other provinces as well. The account, called Rahala Al-Gharib, states that its location is "Sinai - the gateway to Bait Al-Maqdis [Jerusalem]," although it may well operate from elsewhere. The account is shut down often and reopens with a slightly different address. Upon the opening of a new account, ISIS supporters on Twitter spread the new address to enable the greatest possible exposure to its postings.[30]

Alongside the official account, there are also semi-official ISIS Sinai accounts that function as part of its information apparatus. These are the "Sinai Today" and "Egypt Today" accounts, which post updates on ISIS operations and military counter-operations, news from Egypt and Sinai, and ISIS propaganda regarding Egypt and other places as well.[31] The Sinai Today account defines itself as "an independent news page dealing with the events in Sinai in particular, and in Egypt in general." Its location is given as "the land of secret discourse" - a unique ISIS nickname for Sinai.

ISIS Sinai members, or possibly sympathizers who identify online as members, run additional Twitter accounts. During the attack on Sheikh Zuweid, several of these activists posted tweets featuring live updates on the fighting, including images of car bomb detonations - indicating that they are indeed close to events, or at least are in close contact with people who are. In addition to accounts run by individuals, there are news sites, such as Sinai 24, which reports around the clock on security events in northern Sinai and is openly hostile to security forces and sympathetic towards ISIS.[32]

Sinai Province Twitter account

As stated, being part of ISIS means the Sinai Province benefits from the organization's  general distribution network on social media. For instance, on July 15, 2015, a prominent media activist in Iraq known as Abu Maria Al-Iraqi launched a campaign to distribute Sinai Province videos by using popular Egyptian hashtags, with the help of ISIS supporters around the world. He tweeted: "We are uploading the Sinai Province videos. Please spread them by using Egyptian hashtags. Retweet so that they reach the largest number of supports." The post was retweeted 61 times. Later he posted a series of tweets linking to the videos, which were also retweeted dozens of times by ISIS supporters.[33]

Image from Sheikh Zuweid battle, tweeted in real time by ISIS activist (Source:Twitter.com/JeneralSinai, July 1, 2015)

Cyber Warfare

The ISIS Sinai Province uses cyber warfare for both intelligence purposes and as part of its propaganda efforts. Hackers associated with the province are highly active in breaching websites, tapping phones, and taking over Twitter and Facebook accounts, and often publish their successes with video on social media. This cyber activity is unique for ISIS Sinai and it is the only province that boasts of its successes on this front. It is likely that its activists receive external assistance in this domain as well.

ISIS hacking attacks are carried out by the "Islamic Intelligence Services" (Al-Mukhabarat Al-Islamiyya). Members of the group include Al-Qursan Al-Sinawi ("Sinai Pirate") aka Al-Qursan Al-Suwairki ("Pirate of the [Sinai-based] Al-Sawariki TribeÔÇØ)[34] (Twitter.com/SinaiPirate), Abu Khudhaifa Al-Sinawi (Twitter.com/abohz11), who claims to be a software expert and former Muslim Brotherhood member, and Khawla Al-Sinawiyya (Twitter.com/skw008), who says she is a resident of northern Sinai.

Twitter account of female hacker Khawla Al-Sinawiyya

In January, the group hackers posted a video showing the penetration of Facebook accounts, personal computers and smart phones of dozens of Egyptian soldiers and publishing confidential information about them.[35] The hackers also created several fake Facebook accounts for soldiers and police officers in an attempt to gather sensitive information.[36]

In April, the hackers took over popular Egyptian Facebook and Twitter accounts, including those of the popular newspaper Tahya Misr, which has millions of subscribers, and the Twitter accounts of Nugoum Radio and MBC TV, which have hundreds of thousands of followers. The hackers took over the accounts for several hours, changed their profile pictures to ISIS flags, and published dozens of tweets featuring propaganda videos. The Nugoum Radio account also featured a image (apparently previously unpublished) of ISIS Sinai official Shadi Al-Mani'i, whom Egyptian authorities claimed had been killed. Beyond antagonizing Egyptian security forces, this also indicates close ties between ISIS activists on the ground and their supportive hacker groups.[37]

On July 19, the Islamic Intelligence Services group published the second video in its "Electronic Attacks" video series, featuring additional activity by the group. The video documented the defacing of Egyptian websites, the takeover of Facebook accounts, and the recording of phone conversations by Egyptian soldiers whose phones were tapped by hackers.[38] The video stressed the importance of cyber warfare: "The field of electronic jihad is one of the important forms of jihad, and we advise Muslims in general, especially those who abstain from it [i.e. from military jihad], not to delay in preparing their electronic ammo, and to declare a fierce war against the countries that aggress against Islam and the Muslims, and that fight jihad and the mujahideen."[39]

Tweet sent by ISIS from hacked Nugoum Radio account: "First appearance of the commander Shadi Al-Mani'i after interior minister announced his death last year."

ISIS hackers take over MBC TV Twitter account (Source: MBC.net, July 10, 2015)

In yet another attack, the activists hacked the website of the Egyptian ministry of agriculture and planted a ISIS video there. The hackers identified themselves as ISIS soldiers and left a message that read: "This hack was done by the Caliphate soldiers in the Sinai Province. Do not think that the war on the ground will cause us to abandon the electronic war against you; on the contrary, you are in our sights. You will [not] have peace on a single server. The future will be even more bitter."[40]

ISIS hack of the ministry of agriculture website

 

* R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI

 



[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 999, Salafi-Jihadis In Sinai Call For Jihad Against Egyptian Military,  July 24, 2013.

[2] Dabiq 1, p. 36.

[3] Al-Baghdadi's appointee in Libya, the late Wissam 'Abd Zaid Al-Zubeidi, aka Abu Nabil Al-Iraqi, had been a member of the organization since the days of Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi and led many ISIS operations and campaigns. Al-Zubeidi was captured and killed in Derna in June 2015 by a local rival jihadi group. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 19, 2015; Al-Hayat (London), June 12, 2015; The Daily Beast (U.S.), July 19, 2015; Raialyoum.com, July 22, 2015.

[4] Perhaps referencing the attack on Egyptian navy ships on November 12, 2014. Alternatively, Al-Baghdadi may have been praising the courage of the Sinai fighters by comparing them to the Muslim soldiers who conquered the Iberian Peninsula. According to Muslim tradition, their commander, Tariq bin Ziyad, ordered his men to burn the ships they had used to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa.

[7] Reference to a series of blasts along the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline in 2011-2012.

[8] Reference to a video which showed the beheading of a man suspected of spying for Israel and aiding in the assassination of the leader of Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis. See MEMRI JTTM, Sinai Based Jihadi Group Accuses Israel Of Killing Its Leader, Executes 'Spy', November 8, 2012.

[9] Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi began operating in Iraq under the name Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad in 2003. In 2004 he swore fealty to Osama bin Laden and established Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers aka Al-Qaeda in Iraq. After his death in 2006, the organization was dismantled, and Al-Zarqawi's successor, Abu 'Omar Al-Baghdadi, established the Islamic State of Iraq. In 2013, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi announced the organization's name and area of operation were changing, giving birth to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On June 2014 the organization declared itself to be the Caliphate and Al-Baghdadi as the caliph.

[12] At first ISIS released a video showing the Croatian hostage, Tomislav Salopek, crouching in front of a knife-wielding, masked ISIS fighter. He read a message in which ISIS demanded that the Egyptian government release female prisoners in return for Salopek. However, on August 7 the group hinted that he had been killed. Twitter.com/gareb_117, August 7, 2015.

[13] The Twitter account for the Sinai province spokesman issued a communique claiming responsibility for the attack, which ISIS dubbed "The Abu Suhaib Al-Ansari Raid." Twitter.com/gareb_06, July 3, 2015.

[15] Shamikh1.info, April 23, 2014, May 23, 2015, June 23, 2015. This, compared to the two previous months, which had 11 and 9 attacks respectively. Shamikh1.info, December 29, 2014, March 24, 2015.

[16] Isdarat.tv, June 2, 2015.

[17] Even before joining ISIS, Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis was in possession of shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft munitions and the proven ability to shoot down helicopters. See MEMRI JTTM report, "Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis In Sinai Posts Video Documenting Its Downing Of Egyptian Army Helicopter," January 28, 2014.

[18] A pro-ISIS Twitter account also reported dozens of shootings and bombings targeting the homes of police officers. Twitter.com/siinai24, July 5-6, 2015.

[19] Masrawy.com, May 16, 2015.

[20] Shamikh1.info, June 29, 2015.

[21] Mnbr.info, January 26, 2015.

[22] Isdarat.tv, February 10, 2015; Shamikh1.info, December 23, 2014; Mnbr.info, December 6, 2014; Isdarat.tv, November 11, 2014.

[23] Shamikh1.info, June 8, 2015.

[25] Shamikh1.info, July 16, 2015.

[26] Isdarat.tv, June 2, 2015.

[27] Mnbr.info, August 1, 2015.

[28] Shamikh1.info, July 14, 2015.

[29] Twitter.com/marezogy, June 10, 2015.

[30] As of this writing, the account's address is Twitter.com/GAREB_115.

[31] Twitter.com/seena_today; Twitter.com/egypty_today10.

[32] Twitter.com/Sinai24.

[33] Twitter.com/ofhig3, July 15, 2015. The account was subsequently shut down, but Abu Maria Al-Iraqi is still active on Twitter under other accounts.

[34] Currently at Twitter.com/SinaiPirateS.

[36] Klmty.net, September 17, 2015.

[37] See MEMRI JTTM, ISIS Hackers Take Over Popular Egyptian Radio Station's Twitter page, April 15, 2015, and MEMRI JTTM, Pro-ISIS Hacker Targets Egyptian Newspaper's Facebook Page, April 16, 2015. MBC.net, July 10, 2015.

[38] Twitter.com/abohhz11, July 20, 2015.

[40] Cairoportal.com, June 14, 2015.