Eilat attack reveals reach of new Sinai jihadi group

(Photo: AP)

(Photo: AP)

A rocket fired from Sinai towards Eilat on Friday night was intercepted by an Iron Dome battery and destroyed in the air before it could cause any damage.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the jihadist organisation that has been sowing terror in Egypt, took responsibility. This was the second such attack on Eilat in less than two weeks.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has emerged in recent months as the main terror group operating in Sinai, where it first appeared three years ago, attacking gas pipelines and Egyptian police stations in the peninsula.

It is believed to have under 1,000 fighters, most of them radical Sunni Egyptians and disaffected Bedouin tribesmen. The group probably also includes a number of experienced jihadists who fought previously in Syria and Iraq, and Palestinian fighters from Gaza.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis’s weapons are assumed to come from the terror organisations in Gaza and the Libyan army arms stockpiles that were smuggled to Egypt following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

While the Egyptian government has blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for some of the recent terror attacks in its territory and there has been speculation about links between the Islamist movement and jihadi groups, there is no clear evidence of these ties. Hamas in Gaza has denied that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has any connection to the Palestinians.

What is certain is that Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has dramatically increased its activities in the past month. These include the bombings of security headquarters, shooting down an Egyptian army helicopter in Sinai and the assassination of a senior security aide to Egypt’s interior minister.

The missile attacks on Eilat are part of this escalation and reflect Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis’s expansion from a local Sinai movement to an organisation that can operate throughout Egypt using relatively advanced weapons.

Last updated: 10:45pm, February 6 2014