Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Egypt

(February 27, 2023)

Overview:  Egypt experienced a significant decrease in terrorist activity in 2021, compared with previous years.  Egypt is committed to counterterrorism and countering violent extremism.  Egypt continued its military campaign and social development programs in North Sinai, where a degraded ISIS-Sinai Province (ISIS-SP) targeted security forces, pro-government Bedouin groups, and civilians.  In March, Egyptian security forces killed a senior ISIS-SP commander.  In September, a high-profile ISIS-SP religious figure, reported to be behind the deadly 2017 Rouda Mosque attack, defected.  Human rights organizations have raised concerns over reports of civilians allegedly killed during military operations in North Sinai.  Accurate numbers for civilian, military, and terrorist casualties remain elusive because of security constraints in North Sinai and limited press, social media, and government reporting.  As of early 2021, Egypt’s Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights reported that the Egyptian government spent $224 million (out of a total $260 million budgeted) through 2020 on compensation (for property damaged in counterterrorism operations) and economic development to support North Sinai residents.  While the Egyptian government announced it would not renew the national state of emergency in October, other laws give the government special powers in North Sinai where counterterrorism operations are focused.  The government continued to periodically use terrorism-related charges to prosecute individuals for what appeared to constitute peaceful expression and activism.

2021 Terrorist Incidents:  Based on government press releases, as well as social media and other local reporting, at least 90 terrorist incidents took place in the Sinai Peninsula and claimed about 200 casualties.  ISIS-SP claimed most of the attacks.  Like prior years, the methodology for the attacks included small arms attacks, IEDs, VBIEDs, kidnappings, murders (or killings), complex assaults, ambushes, and targeted assassinations.  There was a significant decrease in the number, frequency, and severity of IEDs, VBIEDs, and complex operations with large-scale casualties against Egyptian security forces.  Opportunistic IED and sniper attacks appeared to constitute most security force casualties.

  • On August 12, the Egyptian military announced the death of nine soldiers and 13 militants during undated clashes.  Social media and ISIS-SP reporting claimed an IED attack on an M60 MBT and an armored vehicle during that timeframe.
  • On July 31, ISIS-SP killed at least five Egyptian soldiers and injured another six near Sheikh Zuweid during an ambush on a checkpoint, according to the press and a statement from Egyptian officials.
  • In mid-May, ISIS-SP media accounts claimed seven attacks with nine casualties, including Egyptian security forces and pro-government Bedouin tribe members.
  • On March 24, dozens of alleged ISIS-SP members stormed a town near Bir al-Abd and kidnapped at least 14 civilians, according to social media and local press.

While ISIS-SP was the only group to publicly claim responsibility for attacks during the year, Harakat Sawa’d Misr and AQ-allied groups such as Ansar al-Islam remain groups of concern.  Local security services were aware of attempts by unknown individuals to target churches and infrastructure across the year.  Separately, security forces conducted and publicized occasional raids on weapons caches throughout Egypt, including in Cairo.  Some of the raids resulted in the deaths of several individuals who were the intended targets of the raids.  The government attributed those weapons caches to criminal elements rather than to terrorist organizations.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  The Egyptian government announced it would not renew the nationwide state of emergency on October 25, which had been in effect since 2017 (and previously during 1981-2012).  Human rights groups and international NGOs reported the government continued to use counterterrorism authorities to pursue activists, political candidates, and critics.  President Sisi also ratified amendments to the 2015 Antiterrorism Law:

  • Authorizing the Egyptian president to delegate presidential authority to issue orders imposing evacuations, curfews, or isolation in an identified region for six months in case of terrorism or environmental disasters.
  • Increasing the penalty for filming, recording, broadcasting, or displaying any facts from court sessions in “terrorist crimes” without the permission of the head of the court.
  • Broadening the definition of funds to include a variety of assets tied to what the Egyptian government determined to be extremist ideology.
  • Establishing a compulsory requirement for local authorities to provide information relating to money laundering.
  • Outlining requirements for the authorities to publish statistics on its activities countering terror financing.

Amendments to the Penal Code criminalized the collection or publication of statistics, information, or data on the Egyptian Armed Forces without written permission from the Ministry of Defense.  The Egyptian government also tightened financing laws, which they described as part of the effort to combat terrorism.  The Prime Minister’s Decision No. 104 of 2021 prohibited non-profit organizations from conducting any activities related to terrorism or money laundering.  These changes created administrative burdens, such as unclear reporting requirements, and increased the Egyptian government’s oversight of employment and financial data based on its expansive view of what constitutes supporting or financing terrorism.

The Egyptian government continued to expand its partnerships on land and maritime border security initiatives, particularly along its borders with Libya, Gaza, and Sudan.  At border crossings and airports, Egyptian authorities continued to authenticate travel documents, conduct checks on individuals, and share derogatory information among border authorities for further action.  Egypt maintains a terrorist watchlist for Egyptian immigration officials at the ports of entry, with detailed information maintained by the security services; this list occasionally included peaceful human rights activists and journalists.  The United States assisted Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts by providing training, equipment, and other assistance to its law enforcement and armed forces.

In North Sinai in 2021, Egyptian security operations significantly degraded ISIS-SP.  The Egyptian government continued to conduct military operations and limited airstrikes in the Sinai Peninsula to target terrorists.  A significant number of civilians returned to villages in North Sinai Governorate in late 2021 following an Egyptian Armed Forces campaign to push ISIS-SP from those areas.

The Egyptian government remains highly aware of the dangers in North Sinai.  Transit into and out of the Sinai Peninsula remains tightly controlled, and towns in North Sinai — particularly Bir al-Abd, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid — are closely monitored as the Egyptian government seeks to eradicate terrorist activity in the area.  Human rights organizations claimed a video released in August by the armed forces to depict Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts shows two extrajudicial killings in North Sinai.  Egypt denies the allegation.  The Egyptian government provided compensation to North Sinai residents for property damaged in counterterrorism operations, compensation for the families of those killed or injured, as well as humanitarian/medical aid and social assistance, although North Sinai residents continued to lodge grievances about compensation calculations and disbursements.  Local media and government announcements spotlighted economic development efforts to showcase government investments in education, public infrastructure, and land dispute resolution tied to development projects as longer-term solutions to deter extremism.

The United States continued to support Egypt’s efforts to combat ISIS-SP and other terrorist groups in Egypt by sustaining and providing AH-64 Apache helicopters, mine-resistant and ambush-protected vehicles, counter-IED training, mobile sensor towers, and border security training programs.  The United States routinely engages in bilateral discussions regarding strategies to defeat ISIS-SP and other terrorist groups in Egypt, to further efforts to mitigate the risk of civilian harm and encourage credible investigation into any allegations of human rights violations and abuses.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Egypt is a member of MENAFATF.  Its Financial Intelligence Unit, the Egyptian Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Combating Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group and the National Council of Payments.  Egypt also is a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group.

Countering Violent Extremism:  CVE efforts remain an ongoing focus of the Egyptian government.  The Ministry of Awqaf and the Ministry of Education highlighted ongoing efforts to demonstrate the threat of “extremist ideology” and promote youth programs and curricula on respect and moderation.  Al-Azhar, a global leader in Islamic learning, maintains an observatory for combating online violent extremism (with a team of analysts working in 13 different languages) that challenges and debunks propaganda from ISIS and other violent extremist groups, and announced a forthcoming translation of the Quran into Hebrew.

International and Regional Cooperation:  Egypt participated in the UN’s 2021 Counterterrorism Week and contributed to the UN’s 2021 Counterterrorism Strategy, and regional-level counterterrorism organizations focused on border security.  Egypt is a member of the GCTF and co-chairs the GCTF’s Capacity Building in the East Africa Region Working Group.  Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its second-ever annual counterterrorism report outlining progress and updates.

Source: Country Reports on Terrorism 2021, U.S. Department of State, (February 27, 2023).