When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Al-Qaeda's New Strategy To Eclipse ISIS Begins In Egypt

As battlefield losses pile up for the Islamic State terror group, al-Qaeda eyes both the Sinai and Cairo for new attacks — and new recruits.

A protest supporting families of four Egyptian men kidnapped in January
A protest supporting families of four Egyptian men kidnapped in January
Giordano Stabile


BEIRUT — Al-Qaeda is launching a new bid to dethrone the Islamic State (ISIS) as the world's pre-eminent jihadist terrorist group, and Egypt is the primary target. As al-Qaeda asserts its influence across North Africa in open competition with the self-proclaimed "Caliphate" of ISIS, the battle for supremacy between Osama bin Laden's Egyptian-born successor Ayman al-Zawahiri and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is now moving to the Arab world's most populous country.

ISIS carried out the bombing of a Russian airliner in the Sinai peninsula last October, and mystery still surrounds the fate of Egyptair Flight 804, which crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on its way to Cairo last month. Authorities suspect it may have been brought down by a terrorist bomb, but no group has yet claimed responsibility. The day before the plane's disappearance, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a senior commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), exhorted jihadists in the region to fight for the "right" terror group and abandon the Islamic State. He called specifically on Egyptians for the first time in his long and bloody career in the region, where he has survived several assassination attempts and organized attacks from Algeria to the Ivory Coast.

The group responsible for 9/11 is seeking new tactics to expand its reach and energize its followers. Zawahiri released a message on May 8 inviting the group's followers in Syria to form an "emirate" based on Sharia law, a departure from al-Qaeda's long-standing reluctance to hold and govern territory. Belmokhtar used similar language to appeal to his supporters in the AQIM-affiliated al-Mourabitoun, instructing them to target secular Arab governments supported by the West and Russia, but also to conduct hajira, or "emigration," to jihadist-controlled territory in northern Mali. Al-Qaeda leadership throughout the Arab world is convinced Baghdadi's caliphate is engulfed in an existential crisis, seeing an opportunity to entice the group's members into switching sides.

Capital strategy

The clearest example of the group's new strategy is its focus on Egypt. Abu Omar al-Muhajir al-Masri, a former official in the Egyptian security services, recently established a new al-Qaeda cell in the capital of Cairo with the aim of toppling the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The affiliate, also named al-Mourabitoun, specializes in attacks against the Egyptian state, particularly on judges and soldiers. They also represent rising competition to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the ISIS branch in the Sinai peninsula, which operates in one of the few theaters where the group is expanding amid battlefield setbacks in its heartland in Iraq and Syria.

[rebelmouse-image 27090206 alt="""" original_size="640x450" expand=1]

President al-Sisi meets U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford — Photo: Joint Chiefs of Staff

Al-Masri himself was once a member of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis but quit when it pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. His emergence in Cairo could spark a repeat of the internecine conflict in Syria, where the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra front battles with ISIS for territory and supremacy in the jihadist world. Zawahiri employed much stronger language to condemn ISIS militants in his last recording, condemning them as khawarij, or extremists that must be eliminated.

In the minds of al-Qaeda's leaders, the Sinai represents the entryway to their ultimate goal of conquering Jerusalem. As Zawahiri and Belmokhtar accelerate their propaganda war to recruit new members, the peninsula could also become the newest battlefield in a wider battle with the Islamic State to settle once and for all which is the region's most powerful terrorist organization.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


If We Were All Conscientious Objectors

Our Naples-based psychiatrist imagines a world where all professionals could deny care on the basis of religious objection.

black and white photograph of a woman walking down a Neapolitan street, towards a large church.

A woman walks towards church in Naples

Ciro Pipoli/Instagram
Mariaterese Fichele

In Italy, sacred Catholic values are untouchable.

In fact, they are so untouchable that abortion clinics are falling like flies, forced to close because more and more gynecologists are so-called "conscientious objectors" — allowed to refuse to terminate pregnancies based on religious conviction.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest