Faris Al-Ansari, one of the most dangerous Islamic State (IS) commanders in Sinai, died in a shootout with the Egyptian army last week.
The military laid siege to Al-Ansari in his hideout in the Al-Agra district south of Rafah. He opened fire on the forces which responded by killing him and five of his companions. The so-called IS Sinai Province confirmed the death of Al-Ansari, referred to as the emir of Rafah, in an obituary posted on one of its social media accounts.
A military source familiar with security developments in Sinai told Al-Ahram Weekly that Al-Ansari was one of IS’ most important commanders in Sinai and that the operation that eliminated him and his companions had a powerful impact among his followers. Several terrorist fighters attempted a retaliatory attack at dawn the following day in Beir Al-Abd, he said. They targeted the vehicle of a high-ranking police officer who survived the attack, but a soldier accompanying him was killed.
On Monday, Egypt’s Interior Ministry said it had killed six armed terrorists in North Sinai.
Al-Ansari is believed to belong to the Al-Farig clan to whom belonged Tawfik Farig, founder of the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis terrorist organisation that subsequently declared allegiance to IS and changed its name. The Al-Farig clan is a branch of the Sawarka tribe, one of the three main tribes in North Sinai. Al-Farig’s brother, aka Abu Doaa Al-Ansari, who took over the organisation after Tawfik died in 2014, was himself killed together with other commanders in a military stealth operation in 2016.
The army’s elimination of Faris Al-Ansari was a critical operation not only because of his status in the organisation but also because of his role in the organisation’s arms smuggling activities. Although the army largely controls the strip of territory that borders Gaza, which observers believe is one of the main reasons for the sharp decline in terrorist attacks in the Sinai, smuggling activities persist albeit in a very limited degree.
The timing of the military’s operation is also significant. That the siege was staged during the torrential storms that swept Egypt last weekend and that struck North Sinai with particular force meant that the army was ready to act and acted successfully under the most gruelling conditions.
Observers had anticipated a rise in terrorist violence in Sinai following IS’ collapse in Syria when many of its operatives fled to other areas. The returnees to North Sinai and other infiltrators brought with them the training and combat expertise they had acquired in Syria.
An informed source told the Weekly that security agencies had factored in such considerations and were working closely with neighbouring countries on this matter. Intelligence cooperation was being carried out at the highest levels, he said, adding that the recent visit by Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service Major General Abbas Kamel to Syria to meet with head of the Syrian National Security Bureau Major General Ali Mamlouk, took place in this context.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly