An unfamiliar militant organization that began as a shadowy group after the ouster of Morsi, has now become the most active and destructive one in the country.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis which means Ansar Jerusalem or Supporters of Jerusalem is based in Sinai, recruiting Beduoins, Egyptians and terrorists of all nationalities. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is allegedly funded by a leading member of MB, Khairat Saad al-Shater, who is also a wealthy Egyptian businessman. But the group is reported to be an affiliate of Al-Qaeda. Until now there is no evidence of any strong links between Ansar Bayt and MB. But it's widely assumed that sooner rather than later, Ansar Bayt is bound to have an agreement with MB to take advantage of their bitterness towards the Egyptian government. As the number of foreign "jihadists" increase in Egypt, it's possible that Saudi Arabia's involvement might also deepen.
Several leaders of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis have sneaked into Gaza and into the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Ansar Bayt purportedly has close ties with Hamas. It has forged alliances with Beduoin nomads and smugglers in the mountains of the Sinai desert, winning the confidence and loyalty of a set of people who felt neglected and ignored by the governments of Mubarak and his predecessor for decades. They are familiar with the rugged mountainous terrain of the Sinai desert. It's easy for them to hide, and they frequently keep moving from one hideout to another in small pickup trucks.
It's awfully unfortunate that this group is hijacking the cause of Palestine by claiming to be its champion, yet killing Egyptian civilians just as ruthlessly as the Israelis are killing the Palestinians. It's only a matter of time when the militants of Ansar Bayt begin spreading to other countries. It's possible that some of their fighters may have already infiltrated into Syria.
With approximately 1,000 fighters, Ansar Bayt is rapidly proliferating and attracting terrorists from outside Egypt. They appear to have enough money and plenty of sophisticated weapons, and their ideology is no different from their comrades operating in Syria and Libya. Weapons are mostly being smuggled from Sudan and post-Qaddafi Libya, a gift to Al-Qaeda from NATO. There were lots of landmines left in the Sinai desert from Egypt's war with Israel which have been adjusted and changed by Ansar Bayt into roadside bombs.
Since the fall of 2013, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has carried out a string of terror murders and crimes. To cite just a few:
- On November 2013, the group claimed responsibility for the assassination of Mohamed Mabrouk, a security officer involved in the trial against Mohamed Morsi. Mabrouk was shot dead outside his home in Nasr City.
- On December 24, 2014, it bombed a police compound in the northern city of Egypt, Mansoura, killing 16.
- A month later on January 23, 2014, it bombed a police checkpoint in another northern city of the country, Beni Suef, killing 5.
- On January 24 and 25, there was a series of bomb blasts in Greater Cairo killing at least 8, injuring 75 and damaging various buildings including the police headquarters in Cairo, National Archives building and the Museum of Islamic Art. Ansar Bayt claimed responsibility for all bombings with a warning, quote: "We tell our dear nation that these attacks were only the first drops of rain, so wait for what is coming up."
- On January 25, Ansar Bayt also shot down a military helicopter in Sinai.
- Three days later on January 28, it assassinated Egypt's Interior Minister, Mohamed Al-Saeid.
- On February 16, 2014, Ansar Bayt claimed responsibility of Taba bus bombing that killed the bus driver and 3 Korean tourists with a warning to all tourists to get out of Egypt by February 20.
Elections in Egypt are due within a few months which will likely be a field day for Ansar Bayt to wreck another big carnage despite the tight security.
One of its prime targets is Egypt's economy through violence against tourists, getting them spooked and consequently compelling the country to shut down its tourist industry.
Because of Egypt's close proximity to Israel, the growing activities of Ansar Bayt are becoming a huge cause for concern for Western leaders. It's simple to perceive why the U.S. and Israel were so eager to protect Morsi from being ousted. 'Buy them if you cannot win them.' Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood because of Sadat's decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel. But like Anwar Saadat and his successor, Mubarak, Morsi too as president was just as comfortable over Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
In February 2011 when Egypt rose against Hosni Mubarak, he reportedly screamed on telephone at Obama and Netanyahu saying that if he stepped down, the "terrorists" would sweep across the country. It was a desperate and failed last bid attempt to hang on to power with the help of Washington and Tel Aviv. But looking at the scenario in Egypt now, Mubarak's guess turned out to be correct.
As the Egyptian military, undaunted but cautious, battles the terrorists of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the latter's hit list has been getting lengthier too.