Egypt's army reveals identity of Ansar Beit El-Maqdes founder killed after North Sinai airstrikes

Ahram Online , Sunday 2 Apr 2017

Ansar Beit El-Maqdes's founder and leader Abu Anas El-Ansari (Photo Courtesy of Egypt army spokesman page on Facebook)

Egypt's army has named a prominent leader of militant group Ansar Beit El-Maqdis who it said was killed by the Egyptian armed forces weeks ago.

In an official statement on Sunday, army spokesperson Tamer El-Refai said that the group's leader Salem Salma El-Hamdeen, known as Abu Anas El-Ansari, died following injuries sustained in an airstrike on 18 March that killed 188 militants and injured several others.

According to El-Refai, El-Ansari is one of the group's founders and is among its most important leaders in North Sinai, involved in arming and training militants in the area.

The army statement comes two days after the militant group's propaganda magazine El-Nabaa mourned the death of the 40-year-old leader through an obituary.

"El-Ansari has been a key figure of jihad since he became a member of Al-Tawhid and Al-Jihad in Sinai. Then he was detained for a period of time, then released to return to jihad before his re-arrest," the obituary read.

"He was then among the escapees from Egyptian prisons during the 2011 revolution in Egypt, at which point he was arrested by the authorities, and then released to continue jihad," the obituary read.

Al-Tawhid and Al-Jihad's branch in Sinai had been dominant among militant groups in Sinai in the decade prior to the ousting of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

According to media reports, Al-Ansari was among the suspects in the 2005 bomb attacks targeting tourists in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh that left at least 88 people dead and hundreds injured.

After 2011, Al-Ansari was among the founders of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, and in late 2014, the Sinai-based group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group.

Just weeks before the pledge, Al-Ansari was chosen as leader by Abu Bakr El-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State group.

This is the first time that the army has provided information about the group's leader to the media.

Egypt’s army and police forces have been waging a war against Islamist insurgents in North Sinai for years, with hundreds of security personnel killed, as well as hundreds of militants killed in security campaigns.

Most of the attacks against security personnel and installations in North Sinai in recent years have been claimed by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.

The army recently announced it had taken full control of the Mount Halal area, which was considered one of the key centres of terrorist activity in Sinai.

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