Situation Report: Terror attacks in Sinai rise after US denies millions in aid to Cairo

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In the last week, 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed in seemingly coordinated attacks in the Sinai region. While the Islamic State only claimed responsibility for the first ambush, the jihadist group is likely behind the most recent attack as well. On May 7, 11 soldiers were killed while attempting to prevent a terror attack at a check point on the Suez Canal zone. Several others were injured in the exchange of fire. A second attack occurred just 4 days later on May 11, when jihadists stormed a water pumping station also in Sinai.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi pledged “These terrorist operations will not defeat the determination of the country and the army to continue uprooting terrorism.”

News of the second attack circulated while U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with the Egyptian president in Cairo. The State Department condemned the attack in a public statement, adding that “For decades, the United States has been and remains Egypt’s strong partner in confronting terrorism in the region.  We wish to express our profound condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in this heinous attack.”

In January, the Biden administration announced its plan to cut $130 million in military aid to Egypt due to “human rights concerns.” The White House has been threatening to withhold aid to Cairo since before the onset of Biden’s presidency. As a candidate in January 2021, Biden threatened Sisi by pledging “no more blank checks for Trump’s favorite dictator.” However, both the Obama and Trump administrations defended funding aid to Cairo as a crucial component to regional stability and counter-terror efforts.

A major counter-terror initiative was launched by Egypt in 2018 to address an ongoing ISIS-affiliated uprising on the peninsula. While this Sinai insurgency was largely interrupted through these efforts, terror attacks continue to plague the country at a smaller level. In 2019, an explosives-packed car killed 20 individuals when it rammed into 3 other vehicles. Half a year later, a gunfire exchange in Cairo killed a police officer and wounded several others.

Egypt is not the only country to witness an uptick in ISIS activity. Terror attacks have swept through the African continent in recent months, countering the narrative that the Jihadist group has been defeated. The latest U.S. State Department report on terrorism concluded that ISIS activity remains a “persistent and pervasive threat worldwide.” The Global Terrorism Index released this year mirrors this language while adding that Sub-Saharan African accounted for nearly half of global terrorism deaths in 2021. While ISIS is not the only Jihadist militant group at play, it certainly remains active in the region.

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