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Egypt attack related to political turmoil

By Zhang Zhouxiang | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-29 08:30

Editor's note: On Friday, terrorists bombed a mosque and then opened indiscriminate fire on the worshippers on Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, killing at least 305, including 27 children, and wounding 128. It was the deadliest in Egypt's modern history. Two experts share their views with China Daily's Zhang Zhouxiang. Excerpts follow:

Sinai Peninsula is a weak link

The Sinai Peninsula is a rather weak link in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East. A major part of the peninsula is desert, and it has a relatively low population density with most of the inhabitants being desert-dwelling Bedouins.

Besides, Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula during the Six-Day War of 1967. Tel-Aviv returned it to Cairo only in 1982 and on condition that Egypt restrict its troops on the peninsula to a specific number. It is this relatively weak presence of Egyptian security forces on the peninsula that some extremist groups have used to their advantage to form their bases there and fan out their activities across the region.

It is easier for terrorists to seek haven on the Sinai Peninsula, and rather difficult for the state to root them out. In 2014, when the Islamic State raised its ugly head in Syria and Iraq, some terrorist groups on the peninsula were the first to swear loyalty to the IS group and established its "branch" there, the biggest for the terrorist outfit.

With Egypt facing grave security challenges this year, terrorists groups have targeted the peninsula especially for its relatively weak defense. On Sept 11, militants attacked a security patrol on the peninsula, which resulted in 18 deaths. And in July, suicide bombers attacked two military checkpoints in which at least 23 people were killed.

But we should not overreact to the Sinai attack. Terrorists need assistance from the outside to survive on the peninsula, and with the entire world united in the fight against terrorism, the wave of terrorist attacks can be hopefully curbed.

Yin Gang, a scholar in Middle East Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Beginning of the end of terrorist outfit

So far, no organization has claimed responsibility for the Sinai mosque attack. But all evidence points to the IS group's branch on the Sinai Peninsula. If true, this is not the first IS group attack on the peninsula, or even Egypt as a whole. The IS group's Sinai branch is believed to be behind the several attacks on Christian churches in Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

It is also believed to be responsible for the crash of a Russian civilian aircraft on the peninsula in 2015 which killed more than 220 people. Since the attack came at a time when Iraq and Syria both were claiming the end of the IS group, it is likely that the terrorist outfit launched it to not only announce it was still "going strong" but also to further spread terror. The Sinai IS branch still has many terrorists at its command and could launch more such attacks. But none of this alters the fact that the IS' reign of terror in parts of Iraq and Syria has now come to an end.

Moreover, there is little possibility of the remaining terrorists in the IS group's Iraqi and Syrian wings "moving" to the peninsula because its Sinai branch comprises mainly local militant groups that don't have much association with their "parent" outfit.

The attack on the mosque has much to do with the grave security situation Egypt faces because of the political turmoil in the country. But as Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt's State Information Service, said, the attack reflects "the beginning of weakening" of the IS group because it has started using "soft targets" in the face of security confrontations.

Gong Honglie, an associate professor on anti-terrorism studies at Nanjing University

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