The Islamic State (IS) group is reportedly coaching Egypt’s Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis militants, who have been waging an insurgency against the military-backed Egyptian authorities.
But the coaching, on how to operate more effectively, is said to be done online.
“They teach us how to carry out operations. We communicate through the internet,” a senior commander from Ansar, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.
“They don’t give us weapons or fighters. But they teach us how to create secret cells, consisting of five people. Only one person has contact with other cells.”
“They are teaching us how to attack security forces, the element of surprise,” he said. “They told us to plant bombs then wait 12 hours so that the man planting the device has enough time to escape from the town he is in.”
Sinai-based militants, traditional foes of successive military-backed authorities in Cairo, have killed hundreds of members of the Egyptian security forces over the last year.
The upsurge in attacks came following the overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi in a military coup on 3 July, 2013.
The Egyptian authorities say the current security vacuum in neighbouring Libya has allowed the Egyptian militants to find safe havens across the border, while also establishing contacts with IS supporters there.
“There is definitely coordination between Ansar, the militants in Libya and Islamic State leaders,” an Egyptian security official told Reuters.
Meanwhile, in an interview with pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, Egyptian foreign minister Samih Shoukri said Egypt’s participation in the anti-IS coalition is limited to “offering political support and solidarity.”
And in his address to UN General Assembly, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in order to defeat terrorism, the United States must tackle “all” threats in the region and not just those in Iraq and Syria, which some have understood to be a reference to political Islam, even when no violence is involved.
Critics say post-coup Cairo is trying to broaden its definition of “terrorism” to include political dissent, especially against the Muslim Brotherhood, which has won every poll it was allowed to take part in after the 2011 uprising.
The Brotherhood, which Morsi hails from, is now banned after accusations of taking part in “terrorist” activities, a charge the group strongly denies and says is politically motivated and trumped-up.
Observers agree, however, that the security threat of Sinai’s militants is real and rising, following the government’s tightening of means to express dissent peacefully.
Ansar had recently beheaded four Egyptians it accused of providing intelligence to Israel for an air strike that killed three of its militants.
“The beheadings had a purpose,” the Ansar commander told Reuters, following the rare act of decapitations in Egypt, adding that anyone cooperating with the militants’ enemies would face a similar fate.
He also said that government operations are counterproductive.
“Every time one of us is killed, two or three others join. Usually relatives of those who are killed.”
Ansar militants are not the only group taking part in the anti-army insurgency, the commander said.
“There are others operating in Egypt. We don’t know anything about them,” he said.