A series of deadly terrorist attacks in Egypt’s North Sinai province have citizens fearing even worse violence is to come.
The most recent attack came Oct. 16 in the province’s capital, el-Arish, when the Islamic State-affiliated Wilayat Sinai robbed a bank, leaving eight dead and taking $1 million (17 million Egyptian pounds). Among the dead were three policemen and five civilians, including the bank guard. Officials said 16 other people were injured and one person was taken hostage.
That Monday morning, three unmarked vehicles (two cars and a pickup truck) carrying 20 Wilayat Sinai terrorists arrived at the downtown branch of Al-Ahli state bank. They deployed quickly and efficiently, an eyewitness told Al-Monitor.
Hassan al-Shorbaji, an el-Arish resident, told Al-Monitor he was about 100 yards from the bank. “I was surprised to see masked men holding automatic shotguns,” he said. “Some of them were carrying anti-tank [rocket propelled grenade launchers] and standing at the roadside.”
Ahmed al-Kashef, another eyewitness, told Al-Monitor, “People felt fear and panic. Some of them managed to escape while others were stuck inside shops or on roads when the shooting intensified. The masked men controlled the city center for about 40 minutes without security forces intervening or making any attempt to close in on them.”
The bank is near a security zone that is so closely monitored that civilians can barely move around the area without being subjected to strict security measures. This raised questions about how the terrorists managed to control the bank and downtown area for so long, and get away so easily.
A researcher on Sinai and armed groups’ affairs spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. He described the operation as the first in a series of potential robberies of financial institutions or shops to fund the Islamic State (IS) and Wilayat Sinai, which are engaged in an ongoing war with the Egyptian army.
He added that Wilayat Sinai is facing a financial crisis and is unable to meet the needs of its soldiers because IS has been dealt heavy blows in Syria and Iraq. IS is also being hurt financially by the Palestinian reconciliation declared Oct. 12 in Cairo.
The researcher said, “Wilayat Sinai received financial support from smuggling merchandise through [Palestinian] tunnels to certain areas in Gaza that support IS ideology. … Hamas interfered and stopped the funding after the reconciliation and rapprochement with Cairo, and tightened security measures on the borders. Hamas also pursued some individuals who were proven to have ties with Wilayat Sinai.”