A Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Bayit Al-Maqdis, has denied reports that it has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
Ansar Bayit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) has been active in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula since 2011 and has carried out a number of deadly attacks against Egyptian and Israeli targets.
Reports that the militant group had pledged bay’at -- an oath of allegiance -- to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began to circulate on November 3.
Egypt’s Aswat Masriya website is one of the outlets that reported the claims. The website published a statement that purportedly came from Ansar Bayit al-Maqdis.
The Reuters news agency was the first Western outlet to publish the reports, quoting a statement from the group as saying, “After entrusting God we decided to swear allegiance to the emir of the faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Muslims in Syria and Iraq and in other countries.”
As the reports of the group’s pledge spread rapidly, with reports discussing the pledge and its implications appearing in the Israeli and pan-Arab English language press, as well as other Western outlets, Ansar Bayit al-Maqdis tweeted a denial:
“The announcement that was circulated on the media about our bay’ah to the Islamic Caliphate [IS] does not concern us and everyone should check accuracy and report using our official sources,” the group said.
Even before Ansar Bayit al-Maqdis tweeted its rebuttal, analysts familiar with the group had begun to call into question whether the statement was genuine.
Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a British expert on jihadist groups at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, remarked that the claimed statement by Ansar Bayit al-Madqis was not published via the usual route of jihadi forums like Al-Platform Media:
Freelance journalist Aron Lund, who edits the Syria in Crisis web resource for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also doubted the report’s veracity:
Aaron Reese, the deputy research director at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), wrote that the report of Ansar Bayit al-Maqdis pledging allegiance to IS was “false."
Although it is likely that the militant group is “deriving inspiration” from IS, “we are not likely to see a direct pledge of allegiance at this time. ABM has historically been very tightly targeted against Egyptian security forces and Israel, and members of the group that have a strong affinity for ISIS are likely to emigrate rather than remain in Egypt -- as called for by most ISIS propaganda,” Reese wrote in a joint piece with his colleague Jantzen Garnett.
Reese and Garnett offer an explanation for why the reports of Ansar Bayit al-Maqdis’s alleged pledge of allegiance to IS spread so quickly.
“As [IS] dominates the headlines, there is a general inclination to over-attribute statements to the group,” they write.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk