12:07 GMT01 August 2021
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    The Daesh-aligned terrorist group Wilayat Sinai, formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, brought down a Russian passenger jet in Egypt last fall in response to Moscow’s military campaign against jihadists in Syria, experts told Sputnik.

    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — On Thursday, US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan said Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is responsible for the downing of the Russian A321 passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31 that killed all 224 people on board.

    "They had targeted a Russian plane, not because of anything Russia was doing in its relations to Egypt, but because of Russia’s relationship with Bashar al-Assad… its policy in Syria," the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Center for the Middle East nonresident fellow Zack Gold told Sputnik.

    Despite Wilayat Sinai’s early claim of responsibility for the downing, many initially doubted that the local Sinai terrorist group had the capacity to execute this type of an attack, the scholar added.

    The claim was solidified when a picture of the weapon Wilayat Sinai used to take down the jet — a bomb hidden in a can of soda — was featured in a jihadist magazine, Gold continued.

    Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was initially focused on conducting "economic warfare" against the Egyptian state or fighting the Israelis until it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in November of 2014 and changed its name. After that it became become "more proficient, used more advanced weaponry and carried out more advanced attacks."

    Most of the group’s attacks came in the form of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), assassinations and shootings at checkpoints against Egyptian forces and were largely relegated to a very small area in Northeast Sinai.

    "The biggest change, and this has to do with its pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State, is that it began to carry out attacks on international interests, especially those tied to the war in Syria and the counter-ISIL coalition," Gold observed.

    While the attack on the Russian plane was not Wilayat Sinai’s first attack on tourists, previous attempts were always framed in language associated with local economic warfare that downplayed the international element.

    "Whereas with the Metrojet it was very clear that they were targeting this because they [passengers] were Russian," Gold explained.

    The Egyptians, for their part, have always been interested in obtaining advanced weaponry from both the United States and Russia but are not nearly as keen on jointly developing a counterinsurgency strategy to take on Wilayat Sinai, Gold suggested.

    "Egypt has a very proud military tradition and of course the military has a large role in the leadership of the country and certainly with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, given his military background," Gold said. "They are of the belief that they know what’s best for their own country in terms of its policy and its own operations, and who are these other countries to give them advice?"

    American University Associate Professor Joseph Young told Sputnik that Wilayat Sinai was considered more of a local threat but sought to mesh with Daesh brand, albeit the level of actual operational integration has yet to be determined.

    Russian Airbus A321 passenger airliner crash site in Egypt
    Press-service of Russian Emergency Situations Ministry
    "These kinds of groups seem to now prefer the ISIS [Daesh] brand," Young suggested. "It is hard to say how much coordination they have with ISIS central."

    Groups like Wilayat Sinai, he added, want to be part of Daesh just like other smaller regional Salafi groups that previously would have wanted to be part of the al-Qaeda franchise.

    The Sinai crash is the most deadly aviation disaster in Russian history. Kogalymavia's (Metrojet) flight 9268 was bound for St. Petersburg after leaving Sharm el-Sheikh on October 31, before crashing over the Sinai peninsula.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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