The terrorist group that prompted the Canadian government to close its embassy in Cairo last week, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, is a relative newcomer among the Middle East’s seemingly endless supply of armed Islamist factions.
But a newly-declassified Canadian intelligence report says it has already become “one of the biggest current terrorist threats,” and according to a government source it will soon be added to Ottawa’s list of outlawed terrorist entities.
“We are very well aware of this group and the process with regards to the listing has begun some time ago,” the source said of the Egyptian jihadist faction, a designated terrorist organization in the United States and United Kingdom.
When the Canadian embassy was shut indefinitely last Monday, Foreign Affairs officials said only that the decision was made for “security reasons,” but a government source said it was a result of threats from the Egyptian ISIS affiliate.
The Australian government, meanwhile, said in a travel advisory that terrorists “may be planning attacks against tourist sites, government ministries and embassies in Cairo.” The United Kingdom also closed its Cairo mission last week.
Despite being largely unknown outside Egypt, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has carried out the majority of the terrorist attacks in the country since mid-2012, and has expanded its list of enemies to include tourists and Western interests, the intelligence report said.
“Its ultimate mission is to take control of Egyptian resources and create an Islamic caliphate in Egypt, based on Shariah,” said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service document, obtained by the National Post under the Access to Information Act.
“The group also adheres to transnational Salafist ideology that calls for the liberation of Jerusalem from Israeli forces, as well as to fight all targets that represent in the eyes of the group a threat to Islamic values,” said the report, dated May 2014.
The Egyptian security forces have been the primary targets of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, but also among its stated enemies are Israel and its supporters, notably the U.K. and United States, the “Secret” report said.
In an apparent escalation, last month the group declared its allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader whose official spokesman has incited for attacks against Canadians over the government’s role in the military coalition in Iraq.
The embassy closure was unrelated to a video released by ISIS on Dec. 7 in which a radicalized Ottawa convert, John Maguire, urged Muslims to “follow the example” of the attackers who killed Canadian Forces members in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. in October.
But it is a sign that Western governments are concerned that the fanatical violence of ISIS could spread beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq as regional jihadist groups begin to align themselves with the ultra-radical Al-Baghdadi.
The Department of Foreign Affairs travel advisory for Egypt warns that terrorist groups in the region might attack “in a show of solidarity” with ISIS. “Canadians could also be targeted by a terrorist attack and be considered kidnapping targets,” it said.
The advisory does not name Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis but the declassified CSIS report called the group “a nebula of jihadist cells” based in the Sinai peninsula and composed of Egyptians and Bedouins. Since murdering eight Israelis in 2011, it has conducted more than 100 terrorist attacks.
“ABM usually attacks using improvised explosive devices, often placed in vehicles or carried by kamikazes. Sometimes, ABM has also made use of snipers,” said the six-page Intelligence Assessment, Profile of the Egyptian Terrorist Group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.
ABM usually attacks using improvised explosive devices, often placed in vehicles or carried by kamikazes
“The group has struck vulnerable tourist targets and detonated explosive devices against pipelines and convoys, has attacked installations and security checkpoints of the police and army, and has several times launched rockets at the Israeli border.”
The attacks on visitors are a particular concern to foreign governments as well as tourism-dependent Egypt. In February, a suicide attack on a tourist bus near the Israeli border killed three South Koreans. “It was the first attack that directly targeted foreigners,” the CSIS report said.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis later declared it would increase attacks against tourists, who have long been targeted by Egyptian Islamist groups, notably Gamaa al-Islamiya, which massacred 62 vacationers in Luxor in 1997. The CSIS report noted that the attackers and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis shared a similar goal of disrupting the Egyptian economy.