The Islamic State and its "Sinai Province"
03 April 2015
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
In November 2014, the Gaza-Sinai jihadist group Jamaʿat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis(JABM:
"Supporters of the Holy House," i.e. Jerusalem) pledged allegiance to the
Islamic State (IS). The IS's Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi officially acknowledged
JABM's pledge as the creation of a new "Sinai Province" (Wilayat
Sinai),alongside other recently proclaimed IS provinces in Yemen, Libya,
Algeria, and Saudi Arabia.
The IS leadership's acknowledgment of these pledges of allegiance and
annulment of the groups' previous identities reflect its calculation that
those who have pledged allegiance to the IS can give the IS brand a viable
military presence and ultimately a state-like representation in the area in
question. Another key part of the development of the IS presence in an area
is the media output from the newly established 'media office' for the IS
province, or from unofficial social media accounts.
Two examples against which the new Sinai Province can be assessed are the
cases of Libya and India. The Indian jihadi group Tanẓim Ansar al-Tawheed,
which in May 2014 initially appealed for help to both al-Qaʿida and what was
then called the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), pledged allegiance
to IS in October 2014.
However, there has been no official acknowledgment of this pledge or an
announcement of a newly created "India Province" of the Islamic State. This
is likely because the IS deems the group too insignificant to have any impact
in a territory as vast as India. As a result, the group is merely limited to
propaganda work for the IS via its media outlet, al-Isabah Media, translating
the IS media releases into Indian languages.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the "Cyrenaica Province" (Wilayat
Barqa) of the Islamic State in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, which has
developed IS state-like institutions based on the model of IS governance in
Iraq and Syria, including a Diwan al-Hisbah (enforcing Islamic morality),
a Diwan al-Taʾaleem (education) and a Diwan al-Awqaf wa al-Masajid (religious
outreach and control of mosques). Although the IS is not the only jihadist
faction in Derna, the emergence of these administrative departments, together
with the fact that the IS appears to be able to carry out its trademark acts
of destruction with impunity, would seem to suggest that the IS is
becoming dominant in Derna.
The Sinai Province of the IS falls somewhere along this spectrum. The
official media releases suggest that the IS in Sinai is a military force, but
do not indicate that it controls substantial contiguous territory or
meaningful towns in which the IS can claim it administers state-like
For example, one set of Sinai Province photos shows an IS convoy of vehicles
conveying IS fighters through open country roads and small residential
areas – nothing analogous to the parades IS has held inside major Iraqi
cities and towns. As far as actual military operations, they resemble those
carried out by JABM prior to its pledge to the IS, such as low-scale IED and
mortar attacks and attacks on gas pipelines. A more impressive set of
operations took place in late January this year, in which simultaneous
attacks were carried out in El Arish, Sheikh Zuweid, and Rafah.
On the unofficial level, a document dated February 17, 2015 has emerged
titled "Appeal to Our Dignified Tribes in Sinai," in which the leadership of
Sinai Province urged locals not to collaborate with people associated with
the Egyptian government. It also emphasizes their many grievances,
particularly the Egyptian armed forces' alleged excesses, including "burning
of their [the Muslims'] bodies and destruction of mosques and homes," while
portraying President Sisi as an agent of the Jews.
However, there is as yet no indication of IS state or proto-state bodies in
the Sinai Province. There are no IS 'diwans' or even a Shariʾa Committee in
Sinai, in contrast to what has emerged in at least one of IS's Yemen
provinces. There is what one might describe as 'proto-Hisbah' (Shariʾa law
enforcement), which includes the burning of cannabis plants seized during
ambushes. This development should not be surprising given the pervasive
drug smuggling in Sinai.
The heavy-handed behavior of Egyptian security forces, the coup against the
Morsi government in July 2013, and the marginalization of the Bedouin all
played a role in perpetuating the jihadi insurgency in Sinai. The Morsi coup
has arguably been the most important factor in diverting Sinai jihadism away
from Israel (which was the initial target, as initially implied with the
'Holy House' references) to the Sisi government in Egypt, which is perceived
as taghut – an 'idolatrous tyranny.' How will this shift contribute to the
prospects of the Islamic State's Sinai Province?
One of the problems facing the Sinai Province is that the pro-IS groups in
the broader Gaza-Sinai area display a notable lack of unity. Signs of
pro-ISIS sentiment in Gaza-Sinai first emerged on social media in late summer
2013 and continued into the following year. By 2014, JABM had issued a
statement taking ISIS's side in the infighting with Syrian rebels, and there
emerged a recognizable Gazan contingent of ISIS fighters– the "Sheikh Abu al-Nur
al-Maqdisi Battalion," which most likely used Sinai as an initial transit
space on its way to Syria.
Yet, the Caliphate declaration by ISIS on June 29, 2014 did not immediately
galvanize Gaza-Sinai, as JABM still took some four months to make its pledge.
During this period, JABM appeared to be pro-IS without actually pledging
allegiance. As an ideological position, this is untenable, as the IS's
demands for allegiance are absolute. It seems most likely that there was not
a strong enough consensus to pledge allegiance to the IS within JABM until
October 2014, with opinion likely divided between supporters, fence sitters,
and opponents even as the IS was reaching out and making increasing overtures
to JABM. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has argued that by October 2014 most of
the leadership and senior ranks that opposed aligning with the IS had been
killed off by Egyptian security forces, paving the way for a viable
agreement to be struck between JABM's pro-IS faction in Sinai and the Islamic
State. This led to the unofficially released JABM statement at the beginning
of November, which then forced any remaining fence sitters to take a stand.
Hence the pledge of allegiance proclaimed by JABM's leader Abu Osama al-Masri
was officially released just days later.
Other jihadi groups in the area have yet to pledge allegiance. The Majlis
Shura al-Mujahideen (MSM) in October 2014 issued a statement of support
(Arabic: nusra) for the IS against the U.S.-led coalition, but has not
followed through by joining the Sinai Province. At the same time, the pro-IS
faction within MSM appears to be maintaining an activist front group in Gaza
known as al-Nusra al-Maqdisia ('Maqdisi Support'), but nusra is quite
distinct from bayʾa('allegiance'), and as a result the group has drawn some
criticism. The existence of other pro-IS brands concentrated mainly in
the Gaza area—such asJamaʾat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Bayt al-Maqdis,
Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Ghaza, and Ansar al-Shariʾa Ghaza—might
superficially suggest an actively coordinated IS presence in Gaza using
multiple front groups. In reality, these brands are all distinct and highly
localized, highlighting the inability of the pro-IS trend in Gaza to unite
under one name or even one loose group identity and merge into the IS Sinai
In short, the Sinai Province remains primarily a serious terrorist threat
rather than an IS contingent capable of seizing major population centers and
instituting the kind of sophisticated IS administration that exists in Syria
and Iraq. The lack of unity within the Gaza-Sinai pro-IS trend —together with
the fact that the IS is coming under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria
(limiting the organization's ability to expand and provide support to
affiliates abroad)—should ensure the continuation of the overall status quo
in Sinai for the time being.
 "Photo report on the work of the Diwan al-Hisbah in Wilayat Barqa,"
Wilayat Barqa,January 16, 2015.
 "The men of al-Hisbah destroy one of the status in the town of Derna,"
Wilayat Barqa, January 20, 2015.
 "Photo Report: Military Parade by the Soldiers of the Islamic Caliphate
in Wilayat Sinaiin the Clearness of Day," Wilayat Sinai, March 1, 2015.
 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, "The Land of Sinai- New Islamic State Nasheed
from AjnadMedia," January 16, 2015. The dedication of a nasheed by IS's
official outlet for the production of nasheeds to the subject of the jihad in
Sinai is notable. The content of thenasheed refers to military operations,
not the establishment of state-like structures.
 "Statement: series of operations: 'We vow to take revenge'," Wilayat
Sinai, January 29, 2015.
 "Call/appeal to the our dignified tribes of Sinai," Wilayat Sinai,
February 17, 2015.
 "Photo report on the burning of cannabis drug plants seized during the
implementation of ambushes," Wilayat Sinai, January 3, 2015.
 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, "Muhajireen Battalions in Syria: Part III," Syria
Comment, June 23, 2014.
 "Exclusive: Islamic State guides Egyptian militants, expanding its
influence," Reuters, September 5, 2014.
 Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, "ISIL's International Expansion: What does
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis's Oath of Allegiance Mean?" War on the Rocks, February
 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, "Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen: Support for the
Islamic State," Syria Comment, October 10, 2014.
 I would like to thank "Mr. Orange" for this point.
 Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, "Jihadi Debate over Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya
fi Bayt al-Maqdis," January 2, 2015.
 Ibid; corroborated by on-the-ground reporting from Asmaa al-Ghoul,
"Islamic State rejected Gaza jihadists' offer of allegiance," Al-Monitor,
January 7, 2015.