This analysis is a short extract from Prime Source's latest Weekly Regional Assessment
Recent Development: During the past week, Egyptian security forces have launched a broad operation to target an ISIS cell operating in Qesna, including Amr Saad al-Shuwaikhy, who is believed to be the mastermind of the Palm Sunday bombings in Tanta and Alexandria in April. Several incidents have been reported in the region, situated in southern Egypt, including a shooting attack against police car south of Qesna and clashes with ISIS militants along the Western Desert Road, which led to the killing of a police officer. During the past days a security operation also resulted in the death of two militants near Farafrah, in the Western Desert.
Analysis: During the past months, ISIS has largely increased its efforts to target Christians in a bid to fuel sectarian tensions over which the group generally grows. The group has carried out several attacks against the Coptic community in mainland Egypt and in Sinai, including the twin bombings during Palm Sunday in April and the bombing of a church in Cairo last year. The recent uptick in incidents related to the group in southern Egypt, a region known to host a significant Coptic community and where sectarian tensions are already high, thus suggest the group is trying to consolidate its influence there. The fact that several elements within the population have expressed anti-Christian sentiment along with the region’s proximity to the Western Desert, which borders Libya (where ISIS has a presence despite recent setbacks) and Sudan, likely explains why the group would seek to strengthen its network in this region. However, this is not the first time ISIS tries to expand to southern Egypt, and a previous attempt to establish a new “Province” in the Western Desert was thwarted by security forces.