The leader of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Egypt warned Muslims to avoid Christian gatherings, pointing to the possibility of further attacks against Christians in the country after two suicide bombings that killed dozens last month.
An interview with the unnamed ISIS commander appeared in the jihadi group’s latest release of its weekly Al Naba newspaper, published on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram.
In addition, he also warned Muslims to keep away from potential army and police targets, suggesting that the militant group will keep up attacks on what he referred to as “legitimate targets”.
The leader said,”We are warning you to stay away from Christian gatherings, as well as the gatherings of the army and the police, and the areas that have political government facilities.”
On Palm Sunday, a Christian holiday, ISIS fighters in Egypt launched two separate suicide bombs on churches in the country’s second city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta town of Tanta, killing 45. It was the deadliest attack against Egypt’s Coptic Christians for years.
In addition, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed 28 people last December at the main Coptic Christian cathedral in the heart of the capital Cairo.
In February, Sinai Province declared in another video its intent to wipe out Egypt’s Christians and said they were its “favorite prey.”
Accordingly, it seems that ISIS affiliate, known as the Sinai Province, has moved from targeting authorities and Christians in its base of the northern Sinai Peninsula to targets elsewhere in Egypt.
Security services are struggling to contain the threat despite Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s pledge to protect the minority group from attacks. Sinai Province has also claimed responsibility for the downing of the Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 in October 2015.
The attack killed all 224 passengers and crew on board and ISIS said it had brought down the plane with an improvised explosive device, hidden inside a can and smuggled onto the aircraft.
Moreover, Sinai Province has continued to strengthen its stranglehold of northern Sinai, reportedly creating a Hisba, or religious police force, to force residents to adhere to the group’s rules.
This week, Reuters released a Special Report saying that Islamic State seeks to impose religious rules in Egypt’s North Sinai.
According to Reuters, “On Monday in early April, Shaher Saeed was driving south of the city of Arish in Egypt’s North Sinai when he came upon a group of Islamic State militants who had stopped a truck carrying cigarettes.”
Saeed, who lives in the area, said, “I saw them forcing the driver from the vehicle and stripping the upper part of his clothing before tying him to the door of one of their cars.”
He added, “They hit him on the back more than 10 times, then burned all the cartons of cigarettes … They let him go after warning him not to trade cigarettes again.”
Based on interviews with residents of North Sinai and reviews of Islamic State videos, Reuters report suggests that the ISIS local affiliate is seeking to impose its hardline interpretation of Islam on the local populace for the first time.
According to Sinai Province videos reviewed by Reuters, the group has created a morality police force, known as a Hisba, to enforce strict rules against such behavior as smoking, men shaving their beards or women exposing their faces.