Conflicting reports circulated Monday on militants marching in the middle of Sheikh Zuweid, urging residents to take their side against security forces in written leaflets handed to residents.
The Sinai-based militant group distributed leaflets to residents with direct threats of decapitation if they were found collaborating with the armed forces in their operations in the peninsula. The group also asked the residents to take their side, several North Sinai residents, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Daily News Egypt.
They noted that this has been ongoing in North Sinai for months.
The most recent of these leaflets, dated 17 February, went viral on social media networks where the militants referred to the buffer zone as “criminal”. The leaflet also noted that armed forces are displacing people so as “to construct military camps to protect the Jews”. The buffer zone, which was created by the armed forces along the Rafah-Gaza border, involved the relocation of residents and destruction of houses.
The armed forces are set to create the buffer zone as part of security measures in the peninsula “to fight terrorism”, and to destroy the smuggling tunnels leading in and out of Sinai. The first phase of the buffer zone, which involved the demolition of 837 houses and relocation of 1,156 families, is now complete. The second phase is currently being implemented, involving the demolition of 1,220 houses and relocation of 2,044 families.
The government is compensating relocated residents for their land and houses, unless smuggling tunnels are found in their residence.
The decision to create the buffer zone followed an attack on 24 October targeting security personnel that left at least 30 of them dead. The attack was later claimed by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, now known as “State of Sinai” as they pledged allegiance to “Islamic State” in November.
The group called on North Sinai residents “to expel” the army from their lands and not to be in close proximity to known security personnel residences, as they are targeted by the militants, the leaflet read.
Major Ahmed Abdel Reheem of Sheikh Zuweid police station denied that armed militants marched in the middle of Sheikh Zuweid without security stopping them.
However, he said that some militants drive by on motorcycles and throw around papers to the residents in certain areas in North Sinai, asking them to either join the group, or threatening to kill them if they cooperate with security in the region.
On different occasions, “State of Sinai” have posted several propaganda photos of alleged group members travelling around North Sinai and interacting with alleged residents. The most recent of these were published earlier in February.
On 12 January, the group posted photos on its active Twitter account offering thin envelopes, allegedly full of money, to a handful of allegedly displaced Rafah residents. This marks the first incident of “social services” by the group, Zack Gold, a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, previously told Daily News Egypt.
Gold referred to it as a “development”, adding that the group has long focused on gaining local support through highlighting “perceived slights and abuses the army” has committed against the Sinai population.
Despite their attempt to win residents to their side, the group has claimed a series of beheadings of civilians in Rafah, Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid for allegedly “collaborating with the Egyptian army”.
The most recent claims were the decapitation of eight residents, kidnapped during the past couple of months, and filmed while being decapitated. The decapitation video also features alleged residents complaining about the destruction of their houses, with the group swearing vengeance on the armed forces.
The group launched a large scale attack on security facilities and personnel on 29 January leaving at least 30 dead. The group claims having killed “hundreds”.