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ISIS offshoot links with Hamas in Sinai

Rory Jones, The Wall Street Journal

The rise of an Islamic State affiliate in Egypt is altering the security landscape in a critical corner of the Middle East, according to ­Israeli and Western officials.

Militants with Sinai Province, which has pledged allegiance to the extremist group, have developed ties with the Palestinian movement Hamas that rules the neighbouring Gaza Strip, despite deep ideological differences ­between the two Islamist groups, the officials said.

The ties include help with smuggling and medical care, they said. Officials in Israel, which has likened Hamas to Islamic State, said the co-operation had also ­extended to military training. Hamas officials denied any involvement with Sinai Province.

Egypt’s and Israel’s shared concern about Sinai Province’s growing threat is spurring deeper security co-operation, according to the officials. Israel has let Egypt bring more sophisticated weapons into its restive Sinai Peninsula than allowed under their 1979 peace treaty, in a bid to help counter the group, they said.

“The relationship has probably never been stronger in terms of assistance in military operations to attack ISIS in Sinai,” US congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said after meetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and other Egyptian security officials in Cairo recently. ISIS is ­another name for Islamic State.

The developments show that Islamic State is able to build relationships and shape events far afield even as the group’s control over territory in Syria and Iraq is weakening, just as the attacks in Brussels and Paris linked to the group demonstrated its reach.

Sinai Province was created by up to 1000 jihadists with a group previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis that pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014. The group, based in Sinai, has launched deadly attacks in Egypt and claimed responsibility for blowing up a Russian jet in October, killing 224 people.

The group is in regular contact with Islamic State’s leadership, which helps fund the local affiliate and promote it through ­Islamic State’s extensive social media network, said Israeli officials, Egyptian security officials and independent researchers.
Sinai Province and Hamas are both Sunni Muslim-led groups, but Hamas does not share the same strict interpretation of Islam.

Sinai Province operates in territory on the peninsula where the entrances of smuggling tunnels that lead to Gaza are located, ­according to smugglers and diggers who work on tunnels. That has led to a pragmatic arrangement between Sinai Province and Hamas, Israeli and Western officials said.

Egypt’s defence and interior ministries have said the ties ­between the two groups have ­included co-ordination on ­attacks in north Sinai.
Later last year, Hamas operatives spent a month in the Sinai ­region teaching militants how to fire anti-tank missiles, Israeli officials said.

Hamas subsequently received Russian-made anti-tank missiles via the smuggling network Sinai Province controls, an Israeli ­defence official said.

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