ISIS in Sinai: Background on the frigate attack

The moment the Egyptian vessel burst into flames

A senior member of the NCF board sent us a note to say that the attack on a large Egyptian naval vessel by an ISIS affiliate in Sinai on Thursday demonstrated a new advance in this radical group’s military sophistication.

On the other hand, Egypt has mishandled the people of Sinai for decades, treating the Bedouin in towns such as El Arish as non-Egyptian second class citizens. Incidents such as this are unfortunately not uncommon. In this particular case, the Egyptian frigate was sailing so close to the shore that a mere anti-tank weapon may have been used to attack the ship, though from the photographs available, the impact does seem to have been horrendously devastating.

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“Islamic State Sinai Affiliate Claims to Have Attacked Egyptian Frigate” FOREIGN POLICY By Elias Groll 18 July 2015

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s violent crackdown on political Islam has sparked a violent response. While imprisoning Muslim Brotherhood leaders and sentencing hundreds to death as part of his effort to marginalize political Islam, an insurgency is blooming in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and on Wednesday, the peninsula’s Islamic State affiliate claimed that it had struck an Egyptian frigate with a “guided missile.”

The group distributed three photographs of the attack:

While the militant group, the Sinai Province, claimed that the frigate attack killed all on board, the Egyptian military denied that, saying there were no casualties.

The frigate attack is the latest escalation of the campaign there against Egyptian government forces. Earlier this month, Sinai Province launched an offensive against Egyptian troops that killed at least 17 soldiers. The level of organization of that attack led some analysts to speculate that Sinai Province has received training and support from its Syrian counterpart, the Islamic State. Prior to pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, Sinai Province was known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.

The use of a guided missile to strike an Egyptian ship represents a higher level of technological sophistication than what has been previously observed in Sinai attacks. It is unclear, however, exactly what kind of missile was used in the attack, beyond the militant group’s claim that it was a guided munition.

Militant groups in the region have in the past used guided missiles to attack government ships in the Mediterranean. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, an Iranian anti-ship missile fired by the militant group struck the Israeli warship Hanit, badly damaging the vessel and killing four crew members.

It is possible that Sinai Province could have used a modified anti-tank missile to strike the ship, which in the photographs of the attack does not appear to be far from the shore. In the photographs, what appear to be palm tree fronds can be seen in the foreground. ###

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