Analysis of Wilayat Sinai: The ISIS Tentacle in Egypt

Table of contents

1.       Who and where is Wilayath Sinai?

a.      History

b.      Geography

2.      Wilayath Sinai: Structure

a.       Organization

b.      Armament

c.       Propaganda and others

d.      Training

3.      Wilayath Sinai: Military Elements

a.       Snipers, the elite forces of WS

b.      Technicals

c.       IEDs, SVBIEDs and mines

d.      Light infantry quality

e.       Armoured force

f.        ATGMs

g.       MANPADs

4.      Wilayath Sinai: Combat Operations

a.       Ambushes, assaults and selective targeting

b.      Assaults and other type of combats

                                                              i.      Operation A – Raid after the VBIED

                                                             ii.      Operation B – Tank recovery

                                                           iii.      Operation C – Assault on a location

                                                           iv.      Operation D – RPG ambush

                                                             v.      Operation E – RPG-7 attack

                                                           vi.      Operation F – Gang style attacks

c.       AA operations

d.      Hiding and timing

5.      Wilayath Sinai: Economy

6.      Abu Osama al-Masri, hidden in the footages?

First of all I would like to thanks Victor Lledo (@victorlledo) for help me to translate this very long article. Secondly I would also like to thanks (@NoorNahas1) and Mohamed Mansour (@Mansourtalk) for their kind colaboration.

Edited on june 2017.

 Who and where is Wilayath Sinai?

History

Wilayat Sinai, literally Sinai Province, is the branch of Daesh in Egypt, and especially the Sinai peninsula, their home-base. The group was formed on November 2014 when they pledged allegiance to ISIL, before that they were known as Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, what means Supporters of the Holy House in reference to Jersualem.

But the roots of this organization go back to 2004 and they are closely related to Al Qaeda and also to a publication from that year called Idarat Al-Tawahush (Management of Savagery) that publication advocated to provoke Egyptian security forces into taking disproportionate actions against them, rising sympathies from among Muslims worldwide and local populations building good press for the jihadists.  While the publication is somehow dated, it is widely assumed that it had a big impact on jihadi groups in the Sinai from 2004 until now and certainly fits very well with typical violent strategies used since then by ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Libya or Yemen. It also did stablish that their final goal would be to size large areas and effectively control them as an Islamic State, as a Caliphate.

The amount of troops under their command range from 500 to 1.200 soldiers, however it is sure that the civilian supporting network is much bigger and especially among the Arab tribes from the area.

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Logo of Wilayath Sinai

Geography

It is important to take into account the special characteristics of the Sinai peninsula.

The population living in the peninsula can be estimated around 0,6 millions from wich 420.000 would be in the North and 165.000 would be in the South, generally speaking the Sinai is a low populated and poor region with most of the wealth concentrated in the maritime and land routes at the north.

But the peninsula is a hub for the legal and illegal trade, especially that of weapons, drugs and persons.  Smuggling and traffic is a trade that usually, and historically,  moves from the South and West,  from countries like Somalia, Libya or Sudan with the ultimate goal to reach Gaza, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and others.

Obviously seizing power and exerting control over these activities is important for any aspiring jihadi or criminal group and can be very important for the self-sustainment of the Wilayat Sinai. Therefore it is also strategically and morally important for ISIS and other jihadi groups that might be able to establish supply routes thanks to the lack of control of the peninsula by Egyptian authorities.

Also the human landscape is pretty complex because we are facing a long standing tradition of rebelliousness and a divided society with a rich North and a poor South divide, an area invaded by Israel during its wars against Egypt, a government power structure and also a high number of Bedouin tribes and finally a relevant number of foreigners dealing in dark businesses related to criminal and terrorist activities adding fuel to an explosive situation and bringing in the influence, ideas and power structure of foreign jihadi groups.

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The tribal configuration of Sinai favors jihadi operations

This map shows the population density and the differences between the Sinai and Egypt’s North. It also shows the differences between North and the South of the Sinai peninsula.

The terrain and geography is highly complex and well suited for guerrilla tactics.

The peninsula is surrounded on the West by the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba on the East. Most of the territory is a very dry desertic area with big plains at the north (A1) and a difficult area with lots of elevations and depressions excavated by frequent flash floods (A2) finally, the Southern area is characterized by an extremely rough, abrupt, and mountainous terrain (A3).

 

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Wilayath Sinai structure

Organization

Most of WS attacks in the Sinai have taken place near the Rafah border crossing near Gaza where it is thought that ISIS has some supporters, this is probably because when Ansar Beit Al Maqdis pledged alliance to ISIL they split in various groups, but mainly they became WS and Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade which operates in Gaza area. The whole North-Eastern coastal area of the Sinai can be considered the most active area for WS this entails a certain degree of  complicity with the tribes in that area which are the Tarabin and the Sawarka, however we are sure that the best suited terrain to establish static or temporal central HQs camps are on the Southern A2 and A3 map areas because the lack of population and roughness of the terrain is just perfect for that, however those areas are at a distance from WS area of influence so there they should have some logistical and back up infrastructure at least.

We must take in to account the general situation of guerrilla and terrorist groups fighting against their own State and against the International Community, this requires a high degree of decentralization to allow the “top echelon” of the organization to survive, however  a level of decentralization too high can lead to internal tensions because of the lack of instructions or a clear leadership, so for WS the target should have been to create a good balance between a decentralized organization divided in highly self-sufficient cells and an effective and uncontested but protected leadership.

In order to achieve that the most likely option would be to divide the main military operations area under influence areas where every subgroup is also divided in other cells, every cell would be charged to prepare small scale operations, get local support and resources and get intelligence or recruit forces.

At the same time the central HQs would be the ones tasked to maintain a true link with global ISIS leaders to get the scarce resources which they could bring them or even to coordinate certain terrorist and propaganda actions. Also the central HQs of the group should be charged to maintain high-level meetings with other terrorist or criminal groups and with important tribal members, key finance moves, especially to buy and sell weaponry and other kind of goods and to directly plan the “large campaigns” or important operations in the Sinai.

The most pressured area by far is the northeastern part of the Sinai, and especially around the cities of Al Arish and Rafah near the border with Gaza, this suggests a clear core of local support, after all their leader comes from a well known family of Al-Arish and even him and his father are thought to have links with Hamas in Gaza.

From our point of view a very interesting element indeed is their propaganda ability,  close to the prowess of  ISIS in Iraq and Syria what suggests that some knowledge could have been shared and sometimes even it is possible that WS send its own material to the proficient ISIS editors to lately publish it and so providing a high sensation of centralization and a truly working Caliphate, something which probably is not much else of a mirage because the true links between ISIS and its Sinai province can not be so big in so far they are pushed into secrecy.

We believe that WS has local subgroups at certain parts of the north Sinai while there are still some units with their own special character and training which are probably under the direct command of the central leadership who decides where to use them. It is here where the best snipers, ATGM and MANPAD operators, propaganda units, recoilless rifles, IED/SVBIED and maybe mortar units operate, including also a significant network of civilian supporters providing refuge, supplies, repairs and vital intelligence and information for WS operations.

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WS SPG-9 73 mm recoilless rifle.

What is sure is that they have a network of small non inhabited logistic depots in the desert, they are carefully hidden to pass unnoticed to air and ground surveillance, for that reason they build small parking lots for cars that are carefully camouflaged to resemble local vegetation patterns, or use small warehouses painted with desert colors in the middle of nowhere to hide small things like explosives, IEDs, weapons, ammunitions, oil, or other artifacts.

Sometimes they also have small compounds in the middle of the desert with “villas” ready to be used as safe houses with living rooms, garages, a pantry to hide supplies, and even depots and workshops to produce IEDs or VBIEDs those places can be a good indicative of the local support to their cause and even sometimes they could have been provided by local supporters.

They are self-sufficient, even for safety reasons, for example along several inspections Egyptian forces found a small solar panel, and several arc welders, most likely used to produce IEDs or DIY mounts for the technicals, anyway the electricity consumption could alert authorities because it means that somebody is consuming a lot of electricity in the middle of the desert, so being self-sufficient helps to hide themselves. The use of tunnels is also pretty common.

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Solar panel.
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On the photo of the left upper corner you can appreciate 4 welders by electricity used to produce IEDs.
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Hidden parking lot. The food on the soil indicates that it has been recently abandoned.

All in all we can assess that they probably have a very important tribal and rural support in the North Eastern desert where they are able to hide small depots and compounds ready to be used as safe houses with production, living and provision capabilities, also the rural support gives them a good possibility for recruitment, training and gathering of intelligence in the desert areas.

Also inside the cities, and especially Arish, Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah they have a high degree of local support, which provides them with intelligence, small depots and better options for economical, communications and political opportunities.

Their ability to take advantage of their local support has been remarkable and allowed them to hit Egyptian forces in the area however their fortress is their weakness because they do not seem to be able to expand their military strength to other parts of the Sinai maybe because of the own inter-tribal tensions, however their terrorist activity extends through all of Egypt but we can not fully assess if this is due to WS or to other ISIS or AQ branches.

Another point to stress is that their audacity levels are increasing with time which shows an increasing level of self-confidence thanks to the local support, this has produced some propaganda depictions which may have some grounding in reality like ostentation of their big convoys through populated areas sometimes with even more than 13 cars in spite of the risks like being betrayed or to encounter with Egyptian security forces.

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Armament

From the point of view of the light weaponry they tend to use typical AKs, like AK-47, AKM, AKMS or their copies from a a high number of different countries, also we have rarely seen FN FALs probably from the 50.00 version and a small number of AK-74s, Hungarian AMD-65s and Yugoslavian AK based assault rifles wich differ from the original ones in the length of their barrel. Also we saw what looks like a Beretta AR 70/90 on hands of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis.

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This photo is a good resume of most of the light weapons in their hands.

The medium machine guns are PK or their copies most times the Chinese version called Type 80 and even the coaxial variant called PKT.

The sniper rifles tend to be semiautomatic Soviet SVD Dragunovs or Romanian PSLs and the Austrian anti-materiel HS.50 while also a few American M24s.

The HMGs tend to be 12,7 mm DShKMs, 12,7 mm M2 Browning of various versions and 14,5 mm KPVs and even a  Chinese QJG-02G.  HMGs are mounted on technicals or used with tripods.

Their fire support comes from mortars of different calibers, especially 60 mm Helwan an Egyptian copy of the Chinese Type 63 mortar, also we have documented that they captured a few M1938 Soviet 120 mm mortars but at the moment WS has preferred to use 60 mm mortars because of their easy transport and concealment possbilities. They also have a few Soviet 122 mm OF-21 and 107 mm artillery rockets used to bomb Israel.

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In the anti-armor role they tend to use a huge amount of IEDs of different loads against the different targets (MBTs, IFVs, APCs, MRAPs…), RPG-7s with PG-7VM warheads and the powerful Russian 9M133 Kornet ATGM also we have seen a few SPG-9s and one 9M111 Fagot used for training.

Also a rare technical carefully deployed by the group has a Swiss 25 mm automatic Oerlikon KBA gun probably taken from a YPR-765A1 captured to the Egiptian Army.

The armored forces of Wilayah are pretty small and also their ability to use their scarce vehicles for long periods is weak due to the lack of spare parts, ammunition, oil consumption or training but at the moment there are images of one YPR-765A1 which is a Dutch version of the American AIFV, itself an upgraded variant of the M-113 with better armor and a 25 mm automatic gun and a 7,62 mm coaxial machine gun driven by the group after its capture.

The other vehicle is the jewel of the crown, a M-60A1 with a TTS sight complex that was captured along the YPR to the 2nd Field Army, 2nd Corp, 16th Mechanized Division.

The IEDs are very common ranging from those designed to kill troops in the open to the ones designed to destroy tanks or lightly armored vehicles, they also have the ability to produce VBIEDs, however they are less common and not as sophistacated as those from the ISIS heartland. Among IEDs they also have mines and at least one Czech PP Mi Sr “bouncing Betty”.

Finally there are proofs showing that they have been able to get a certain amount of MANPADs, to be more precise from the Strela-2 family but most of them might not have bateries to make them work.

Propaganda and others

When Ansar Beit Al Maqdis pledged alliance to ISIS something changed in their way they present themselves to the world, since that day they have vastly improved their propaganda apparatus that now is truly part of the powerful ISIS media network.

It is likely that at times the propaganda material is sent to ISIS media HQs to be edited and released for WS what would explain the high quality of their propaganda that suddenly evolved when they became part of ISIS, also it is possible that they got advice and maybe even proffesionals to do the job.

For example we have seen that they have at least a recording team with two cameramen that stay with WS during its actions, also we conclude that they are not fully dedicated to record as they are fully armed.

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Two cameras, the one that took the photo and the man on the left.
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Same situation as in the upper image

Also their way of presenting their videos is the same as ISIS and their propaganda looks to be centralized but specialized in their region by accusing Egyptian forces of diverse attrocities and unjustices while they show themselves as the saviors of the people by helping the population and letting the children come on them.

From what can be seen in one of their videos where an instructor who was teaching characteristics of ATGMs and MANPADs we were able to see that the computer was always disconnected from internet and that it had a common and free security program called “True Crypt” depending on Microsoft and whose active life ended on 5/2014 and they even advice the customers to migrate it to Bit Locker, as we can see on the clock of the computer the image was taken on 2015 so the program arguably installed to protect certain information is just outdated. These types of programs help to hide and protect certain documents that the user might want to protect.

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This is the image, the key looking down is the “True Crypt” and the clock at the corner on the left marks 2015.

In the “Islamic Caliphate” every Wilhayat has a governor, of course in the case of those provinces where ISIS is a hidden group the governors are just nominal charges, however in their target of establish a Caliphate sometimes they execute propaganda actions with the aim of show themselves as something else to than a guerrilla group, however it is true that those propagandistic actions have a point of truth and show that at least they exert certain control in some areas that allow them to feel they safe enough to appear in the middle of a location with their combat suit and their AKs giving sweets to the children or establishing armed controls with technicals in a secondary road or showing some kind of bureaucracy with papers with the stamp of ISIS.

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All this images show a certain level of penetration of ISIS among some places and must worry a lot to the Egyptian governor in the Sinai as far as it shows a small but ambitious and matching power in the region.

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Emblem used by WS propaganda media.

Training

While sometimes there is a important difference in quality between units of WS, most times they show an acceptable level of training in basic infantry tactics, something not commonly seen in MENA, however the important differences between the units in our opinion proves that there is a decentralized recruitment or training or at least different levels of trainings among WS subunits.

We have been able to ascertain that they do common basic exercises like walk with the equipment in column through the desert, and also they train in typical obstacles like the bars.

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Also we think that they get a good training to manage MMGs, HMGs and assault rifles and they have done some practice and learn some shooting essentials, but the designated marksman and sniper units really stands out and seems to have done an extensive training with specialist shooting practice, camouflage and infiltration techniques.

Shooting practices as in the case of the snipers is undertaken in makeshift temporary ranges or at least in exremelly poor and hasty locations. We can know about this thanks to the kind of targets and the infrastructure at use, for example we can see how they shoot at balloons, a “temporary” and easy to put target, this makes a lot of sense as far as the bigger the compound more possibilities to be recognised from above or from the ground.

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What is sure is that they have some kind of small training and / or teaching facilities because we have seen how they were taught in a sober room where there was sunlight meaning that it is on the surface, not underground, also the room had just chairs and the bare material to teach the “students” on marksmanship.

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Note how an open window on the right side let the sunlight come in the room proof that they are not underground, also the cable at the left of the door indicates that it could be connected to the Egyptian energy net.

By the way they were getting a first background about the most advanced, and complex weapons that the group operates, things like MANPADs and ATGMs, for example they had an inert 9M111 Fagot missile and its launcher and also a Kornet-E launcher with a 9M133-1 missile as we can see in the next image.

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Also as you can see they give relatively advanced theoretical lessons about the weapons.

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It must be said that the 9M133 Kornet is the most advanced Russian ATGM and it should be able to penetrate most, if not all of the best MBTs of the Egyptian army, but also the version 9M133-1 shown by the group is the most capable version of the Kornet.

It is also interesting to note how in one image the instructor is speaking about the M-60 Patton tank of the Egiptian army and he is appointing its weak spots, where AT projectiles must be aimed, the rear side of the hull where the engine and fuel are located, and the rear of the turret where the ammunition stores, as we can see in ISIS videos when using ATGMs they are doing exactly what it is taught in these images, as you can see in the following pictures.

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While this can just be appreciated in the video the missile hits the hull’s rear side or the turret causing an inmediate explosion that has probably destroyed tha tank and killed its crew.

Also the instructor has an inert and an active model of a Strela-2 one sitting on the stand and the other displayed on the wall, which looks a DIY mock up but gives still a good idea to teach as conventional armies do everywhere.

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Also having a closer look at WS MANPAD markings we can clearly see that at least one of them is a 9K32-M, also known as Strela-2B an improved version over the first Strela-2s.

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From bottom to top the third inscription indicates the “M” of the upgraded 9K32-M.

The instructor trains both for ATGMs and MANPADs, so it is likely that we are facing a veteran, an old member of the army or a jihadi who has received training outside.

Wilayath Sinai: Military Elements

Snipers, the elite units of WS

Most times sniper and designated marksman in non-State armies are inter-exchangeable roles depending on the nature of the mission, true snipers normally prefer bolt action rifles while designated marksman tend to use semiautomatic precision rifles. However while snipers can sometimes use semiautomatic precision rifles, designated marksmen rarely use bolt action rifles.

Also designated marksmen and snipers can support other military actions, like in an ambush, to hostigate lone military forces by killing one or two soldiers from the distace and get out of an area undetected is normally a mission for snipers.

During the first WS videos we saw the typical designated marksman / sniper units using semiautomatic Soviet SVD Dragunovs and Romanian PSLs both using the 7,62 x 54R cartridge, however and especially on 2017 we have seen a much more especialized role for sniper units, this time mainly using the Austrian HS. 50 antimaterial rifle with the powerful 12,7 x 99 cartridge.

About designated marksmen we have seen that sometimes they are attached to the forces of the first echelon to fulfil even a sharpshooter role, but less oftentimes they also have dedicated sharpshooter with powerful magnification scopes mounted on powerful assault rifles, like the FN FAL.

Rifles like the Dragunov with adequate magnification scopes and good training can accurately reach distances up to 600 metres and even up to 800 metres with some luck in certain aspects of the rifle and the shooter, while rifles like the  HS.50 can reach distances  up to 1,5 km.  However, lacking of proper training and practice most guerrilla groups fail to exploit the maximum range of these weapons.

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For MENA standards a rifle like this semiautomatic PSL can serve for sniper and designated marksman purposes.
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WS spotter with binoculars, ghillie suit and an AKMS.

While the propaganda of WS may understate these issues it is true that we also see a high degree of profficiency, for example in the video released on April 2017 we saw how they were using “ghillie” camouflage suit,  relatively complex but effective one, at the same time they moved in fire teams of two soldiers, the sniper and the spotter, the last one with binoculars to provide measures to aim at the target, also they chose a well concealed position, usually aiming at the back of the observation towers where an infiltration is unexpected and so it is very difficult to locate the source of fire and give adequate response.

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Ghillie suit, desertic coloured skin mask, HS.50 antimaterial rifle with tires added to prevent flashes, they are well trained.

Also while the sniper carries the weight of the weapon the observer holds an AKMS with retractable stock to provide extra defense in case of an unexpected engagement at close range, this suggests that these fire teams tend to act alone making just a few shots and getting out of their theatre of operations.

Also they use proper masking techniques to prevent flashes from the sun or other lights over the metal parts of the rifles or on the lens of the scopes, also sometimes they use a matt or blanket to stay more comfortably on it, which suggests that they stay a long periods of time in the same position,  a sign that they are not just “snipers” as most people tend to consider them but also and equally important, they are forward observers who may or may not shoot at the observed target.

In our opinion it is likely that they have done an intense shooting training program to get an acceptable level of accuracy and a high level of infiltraion abilities. For example in the next image we see that they are trained to quietly walk over the typical dry soil filled with some vegetation while at the same time observing the area a type of advance adopted in by Special Forces in certain terrain and situations.

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Technicals

As any guerrilla group in MENA WS has a huge amount of technicals, normally they are Toyotas that sometimes have weapons attached, in the case of WS they use to have a frontal shield and a M2, DShK or KPV HMG, but sometimes we have seen very rare models with Swiss 25 mm automatic Oerlikon KBA gun, SPG-9 recoilless rifles or even one Chinese 14,5 mm QJG-02G similar to the Soviet ZGU-1.

A normal Toyota without a weapon can carry one driver, a co-driver and seven fully armed troops at the back bed, three seated on each side while one stand up with a PK machine gun supported on the roof.

But probably along the force there is a logistic element ready to transport some extra material and / or ready to upload all the loot. Also most of the Toyotas have a common camouflage made by adding some sand and dust to the car, although it is very likely that some driving training or driving instructions are given to drive in column at high speeds or to adopt the best positions to use the weapons installed on the Toyotas.

From our point of view the most interesting technical is the one with the 25 mm Oerlikon, a vehicle that has been rarely deployed by WS but shows a high degree of adaptability behind this group.

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Technical with the 25 mm gun during a propagandistic road control in the Sinai.
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Another point of view of the 25 mm Oerlikon, note the DIY crosshair cleverly attached in front of the gunners sight.

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Maybe the most interesting feature that also shows the high level of technical thinking behind WS is that as we can see in the upper image there is an observer with binoculars who tells the gunner the corrections that have to be done to hit the target,  a good idea to aim a gun that normally would have been much more difficult to use in the battlefield, and that now thanks to this method of operation can be really effective, also sparing ammunition, something very important taking in to account the likely difficulties of WS to get 25 mm ammunition.

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IEDs, SVBIEDs and mines

IEDs are one of the most important tools of WS to provoke losses to the Egyptian security forces, they are used in different ways and they are designed against different targets.

We have seen IEDs used to destroy tanks, IFVs, APCs, MRAPs, unarmored military vehicles and even civilian ones with a high level of effectiveness, most times they are used in the same way as Iraqi insurgency against the U.S so they just try to blow them close to the target and get out of the area, but also a few times they are used to enhance ambush operations.

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Example of WS IED.

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Finally it is very interesting to note the use of small IEDs very well positioned and manualy activated to kill small groups of soldiers.

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The red circles indicate where the IED was placed

If WS propaganda reflects well their tactics we are sure that IED attempts are the most preferred operations of the jihadist, and the predictability of Egyptian forces plays an important role on IED attack effectiveness.

Also the amount of SVBIEDs used by WS is relatively low what suggests a low level of internationalization of the “Egyptian jihad” and also a predominant importance of the local conditions over other considerations.

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The use of VBIEDs is scarce, and we have seen typical terrorist vehicle-bomb attacks against security forces and a more tactical use of this weapon in a similar way as ISIS does in the battlefield, as the first mean to shock the defenders before the main force arrives in the middle of confusion to take the target.

Also Egyptian security forces during a raid captured a Czech PP-Mi-Šr mine with two RO-1 fuses installed, here is the image:

Screenshot_6
When the wire is cut it can not be stretched and so it can not detonate, that is the way to deactivate this kind of mine fuses.

This kind of mines come from the infamous German WWII mine “Bouncing Betty” (SMi-35) and they are designed to add different types of fuses for different purposes, int this case the fuses are RO-1, the “Y” shaped thing, it has two tensed wires attached to both detonators in two different directions, to cover a wide area and when someone passes and stretches it the priming mechanism is activated.

These kind of tripwire mines or IEDs are very effective, especially  when daisy chained against large convoys, they have the disadvantage that they can not be fully controlled once installed and so it is very important to have very good intelligence about the target, because otherwise it can be activated by  a civilian person or unintended vehicle;  but for military personnel and especially big convoys they can be a substantial problem to deal with, because the wires can be very thin and difficult to see without advanced equipment, whereas a pressure activated charge can be oftentimes spotted  and remotely activated IEDs can be jammed with relatively cheap equipment.

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Material found in a WS compound to produce IEDs.
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Claimed motorbike SVBIED.

Light Infantry Quality

When we see IS propaganda videos of Syria or Iraq we assume that in theory they are designed to provide an improved view of the Caliphate and so we usually see great numerous scenes of people appearing in the middle of a street and firing the weapon from the hip without aiming at anything, while in some videos of WS this still happens we have noticed that the way of use the light weaponry is very good for what you normally expect in MENA asymmetric warfare.

For example most times they do not expose themselves firing in the middle of the street, but rather they stay as much protected as possible firing the AKs from the corner of the building, also most times they do semiautomatic or burst fire but rarely automatic fire.

Apuntan bien EE
Most times they are correctly using their weapons, aiming and firing in burst or single shoots.

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Most times they are correctly using their weapons, aiming and firing in burst or single shoots

It is very interesting to see how they manage the DShKMs from the technicals by firing a bullet and adjusting the aim, no longer than useful bursts, every thing’s pace is as slow as it has to be. A feature that you normally do not see in this type of groups is the use of a loader for a MMG, this is a common practice among professional armies to let the gunner concentrate on aiming and provide accurate firepower for longer time periods but this rarely happens in non-State armies.

As we can see in the next image during an operation there is a gunner and there is a loader holding the ammunition belt, however in this case is a rough version of the ordinary loader buddy, because he holds the belt while waiting for the gunner to waste all the ammunition that is attached to the ammunition box, maybe the situation happened because before they established themselves in the position they were moving and so just when the firefight broke and the gunner appreciated he was going to consume all the cartridges he asked for the ammunition belts be already prepared.

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The gunner of this Chinese M80 MMG is using the ammunition box to support the weapon and aim, when he should be using the bipod, what may indicate a low level of training, however on his back the loader awaits with the ammunition belt ready to feed the M80.

In the next image we can see a rare feature, what it seems a M80 MG is mounted on a tripod to gain stability, a relatively rare attachment for MMGs in MENA which in our opinion shows a decent level of MMG’s use from WS.

EE PK tripod

The ubiquitous Soviet AT rocket launcher RPG-7 is still a very capable and easy-to-use weapon on the right hands, normally WS use them with the widespreaded PG-7/PG-7V and PG-7VM warheads which are relatively old and can not face the armor of modern MBTs but they can still penetrate a M-60A1 specially if they hit the sides, and also many other APCs, MRAPs or IFVs are very vulnerable to them.

On operations like raids, ambushes or assaults RPG-7s are always there as part of every squad of 7-8 men. The operator also wears the boosters and carrier bag with another three grenade loads, they also usually have an AKMS for selfdefense. Their use is concentrated on armored vehicles, and it is fired at ≈150 metres.

Mortars are also used, but from what we have been able to see they do not seem to be used to support operations, but rather to do fast attacks by launching a few rounds over the target and then get out of the area, for this purpose the Egyptian version of the Chinese 60 mm Type 63-1 mortar is ideally suited because it is easy to handle and hide in a normal car, which can not be done with an 81 or 120 mm mortar, however we have documented how WS captured a few old but powerful Soviet M1938 120 mm mortars and its ammunition. In our opinion mortars do not appear in WS media but they might play a significant role during operations, mainly because we have seen Egyptian security forces capturing heavy mortars a few times already.

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Armoured Force

We have seen how WS was able to capture and at least drive a YPR-765A1 IFV and a M-60A1 TTS Patton, also we are sure that if they have wanted to they have been able to capture a certain amount of ammunition both for the 25 mm and the 105 mm guns that these vehicles use, however refueling and maintenance cost and how flashy those vehicles are should have made them very difficult to hide them in time. However it is not certain if they lost those vehicles, because if at least two technicals were able to get the 25 mm gun from a YPR-765A1 it means that at some point they were able to ride those IFVs to a safe area to dismount the 25 mm guns and mount them on the technical, a clear sign that they were able to readily hide those heavy vehicles.

Another problem is the relatively complexity to fire the Patton’s main gun and the complexity and fuel consumption of its engine, however with some luck and if they are eager to get those resources they can at least overcome some of these difficulties, for example they can just use the MGs of the tank in spite of the 105 mm gun.

We think that the YPR-765A1 because of its engine and armament is much less complex than the M-60 and also is useful to safely taxi troops so it could be used in relevant operations. However from our point of view the worst scenario would be if they can use that small armored fleet to make a more complex surprise raid against a more relevant army position because it is sure that Egyptian forces will not expect an attack from their own armored vehicles. However technical availability for such an operation would be very unlikely.

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For the time being the armored force of WS remains in an embryonic stage, however in spite of scarcity the material base is already there and taking into account their success with previous raids it is not unlikely that they may get more heavy vehicles in the future, specially MRAPs, Humvees or BMP-1s that could be more easily operated by them.

EE mayo 2015 YPR-765A1 4
They have retired the 25 mm gun from this YPR so maybe that gun is the same mounted on a technical, also look at the FN FAL 50.61 with folding stock.

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As shown on the videos where they captured the YPR-765A1 they also captured a soldier that could have enough knowledge about the vehicle to explain them how to roughly drive the IFV, other prisioners could have been taken and may have given WS the opportunity to know better about this armored force and how to operate the material, may be even keep the POWs captive while they become able to maintain and operate their small fleet of armored vehicles.

024
M85 machine gun, a sight and some 105 mm rounds.

ATGMs

From what it has been released we can assert that the number of ATGMs available to WS seems to be extremely scarce and even the use of the 9M111 series ATGM shown when training their troops have not been observed during combat operations.

So in our opinion it is very likely that the amount of ATGMs in their hands is very scarce, however they have well trained operators for them because as we saw they are even taught to aim at the weaker parts of the tank and even when firing at the tank’s front they know their weaker spots as certain footages show.

But as seen at the moment only the 9M133, presumably 9M133-1 variants have been used, and always against the most precious of targets, battle tanks. None the less tanks remain the most powerful weapon in ground warfare especially because of its strong armor so when a group has just a limited number of ATGMs they are used strictly against tanks. In Syria, for instance, whereas rebel groups received huge amounts of ATGMs they began to use them against other opportunity targets, not just tanks, circumstances not given in WS’ case.

Their few Kornets are very powerful and the only Egyptian tanks that could maybe withstand its penetration abilities are the M1 Abrams which are not currently deployed on WS’s theater of operation.

However, the creativity of WS leapt forward when they decided to use a Kornet against a patrol boat of the Egyptian Navy, while this kind of actions against ships are uncommon they might increase in the future as far as they are just lightly armored and even the biggest modern vessels have a thin armor, are also significantly slower than ground vehicles and can not hide well because of lack of cover making them easy targets for ATGMs.

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Wilhayat Sinai Combat Operations

  1. Ambushes, assaults and selective targeting

While ambushes are not widely documented in WS media it is likely that they have a more significant role than that reflected in their propaganda, the reason for this lack of media presence is because it is relatively difficult to record these type of operations due to the need of previous knowledge of the place where the action is going to take place and the increasing complexity of the attack scenario.

However we have been able to see some interesting ones, for example in the next one we can see that there is a column of three Egiptian army vehicles, a SUV, a Humvee and a M-113. The IED anihilates the first unarmored SUV and just after that the firefight begins from at least two firing positions, the more advanced position is on the left of the image from where two fighters with AKs fire at the column, the second firing position is not seen but rather heard and is placed in the same postion as where the operation is been recorded from where the machine gun is providing fire, this suggests an ambush position with an advanced element comprised of men with assault rifles and a second fire support position with heavier weapons. Their action plan is facilitated by the shock  effect provided by the perfectly located IED and a well chosen target, the only vehicle of the column without number plates.

EE IED ambush 1EE positions ambush

We see another ambush, this time against unarmed soldiers, although to be fair this is not an important point. This time we clearly hear an opening single fire shot maybe from a sniper or a designated marksman, and just after that we hear the barrage of a few automatic weapons firing against the unit, where the action finish.  In our opinion this clearly suggests that they had instructions to fire only after the first round was fired, which is a good tactic to make more likely a first kill and enhance the confusion moments and shock effect of the first moments, when the soldiers are more vulnerable, also to use the first shot as a signal could be because they were spreaded through different firing positions too far away between them to communicate properly, so if this happened it is very likely that they were firing from various positions with interlooking fields of fire.

EE ambush

It is likely that these soldiers were recent recruits and they were been trained what can explain why only one soldier, probably the instructor, the man with a yellow suit carries the only assault rifle in the group.

  1. Assaults and other type of combats

Operation A – Raid after the VBIED

This is one of the few operations where WS acts as ISIS would do in the Iraqi or Syrian battlefield.

First of all an extremelly powerful SVBIED preceeds the attack and creates shock, confusion, panic ensues what degrade the defensive positions, after that at least three Toyotas carry the assault group that it is awaiting a the road at less than 1,5-3 km of the target .

S P1 VBIED
Here appears the position to be attacked, the attack and the SVBIED will come from the right, and there are two M-60A1s and three M-113s behind the barriers at the position and also there is one concealed MMG position with a FN MAG.
S P1 VBIED 2
The target just a second after the explosion.
S P1 VBIED 3
The explosion seen from the position where the assault group is waiting.

Here appears the position to be attacked, the attack and the SVBIED will come from the right, and there are two M-60A1s and three M-113s behind the barriers at the position and also there is one concealed MMG position with a FN MAG

Immediately after or coincidentally with the ensuing explosion, the assault group moves at very high speed towards the target to take advantage of the aftermath of the SVBIED, we are not sure how many Toyotas participated, but we believe that there are 3 to 4 more vehicles involved.

Next image is taken from the vehicle that in theory would be at the rear of the column, just look at the terrorist with the white rucksack.

S Tech 1

The next image in our opinion is taken from the vehicle that appears in front of the camera in the previous image, but if we look at the front of this one, we can see that there is a vehicle forward, this one at a much greater distance than the other ones.

S Tech 2

In the next image we can see that the mounted infantry accompanying the white rucksack guy has not dismounted yet, while the assault troops from another car are rushing into the position, indicating that they arrived before and paving the way for the other Toyotas to get closer to the position and land the troops.

S 1 rush

During the next part of the video we can see that there are 7-8 well organized and equipped soldiers in that SUV. First thing noted is that they all wear the typical jihad black suit, there are at least two RPG-7 operators who carry their own ammunition, presumably one man with a RPG-7 at each car, around 6 men have an assault rifle while the last one has a PK machine gun being held mounted on the car’s roof during the initial approach to provide suppressive fire while getting closer to the position,  once all the soldiers have dismounted the fighter with the MMG will follow to provide the  supporting element.

Worth noting also  how the jihadi of the next image have cleverly put the PG-7 rockets looking down inside the bag with the propellants installed on them, it is likely that he did not remove the safety fuse of the warhead because otherwise he would have probably kill himself.  This way of readying the rockets can save a lot of time, which is very important in this type of combat operations, also it reduces the need of a loader to help to reload the RPG-7 during the combat.

S 2 rush
Note how the RPG-7 warheads with the attached boosters are facing down, also note that this RPG-7 operator carries an AKMS, not a bad idea for a fast operation like this one, but maybe for this distance a submachine gun could have been more comfortable.

After this the assault group rush into the position killing the survivors and advancing through the destroyed position, one tank has been knocked, but the second one is runing away in panic from the position, less than 30 meters away from the jihadi thinking twice what to do, it looks like maybe some PG-7s were fired with low accuracy so no one hit the exposed tank that finally was able to escape.

S 1 rush runaway
Note where the runaway tank is located.

Two M-113s and one M-60 fallen on ISIS hands, the disabled tank may have get an RPG-7 at the turret but anyway we think that hand grenades were thrown inside the vehicles.  We have been able to count at least 15 killed soldiers, but the number could be even higher inside the vehicles or due to the initial SVBIED explosion.

S 1 rush 2
Aftermath.

In the next image you can appreciate relevant details of the attacked position.

S 1 AA
From left to right, the two arrows indicate the position of two M-113s that were behind the M-60A1 tank at the left on this photo, then there is the concealed machine gun position covering a road with roadblocks not visible in this photo, then there is a M1938 mortar which was subsequently captured, another M-113 an finally the M-60 that got hit.

In the next image we can appreciate that all the action has been recorded by at least two men who are also armed jihadi wearing the same equipment as their partners.

Armed WS cameraman

This operation was carefully planned, the position is relatively strong and they have the means to defend it if they had reacted in time, however the WS SVBIED shocked the position and the assault group was fast enough to take advantage of the situation attacking from one side in spite of approaching the position head on along the road, the defenders placed roadblocks and there is a concealed MG which if well managed could stop on its own the whole attack taking into account that the jihadi cars have no armor so they are very vulnerable before the infantry dismounts.

Finally in the next images we can see the loot.

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Operation B – Tank Recovery

A significant attack by WS has taken place at the outskirts of an Egyptian town, this quickly develops into a skirmish when an ISIS 9M133 Kornet, probably an improved 9M133-1 Kornet ATGM hits a M-60 Patton on the left side of the turret disabling it and causing minor fire and explosions. The 9M133 is the most modern Russian ATGM and is more than enough to deal with a 60s era tank as the Patton.

EE 9M133 Kornet
9M133 Kornet.

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After the hit a rescue operation ensues, two Humvees rush to rescue the crew while at the same time we can see how 7,62 or 12,7 mm bullets fall short by two dozen metres from the Humvees, the impact of a 12,7 mm can easily penetrate the skin of those early model Humvees. At the same time the gunner of one .50 on the Humvee tries to load a belt of ammunition, but he finally does not fire and both Humvees exit the area at high speed under heavy fire from WS.

A4
Humvee rescue operation, the red arrow marks the place where a bullet has fallen short

Follow after a second rescue operation begins, this time a better protected M-113A2 comes to do the job, but thanks to the Humvees the WS gunner managing the DShKM has adjusted its aim and now is able to hit with one round at the rightside of the M-113 hitting it twice on the left side of the Hull which until then it was able to survive three hits which more likely ended in penetrations without further damage.

EE impacto 12,7 en M-113
Image of the impact on one side of the M-113.
EE impacto 12,7 en M-113 2
Image of the impact in the other side by a 12,7 mm.

During this time the gunner of the M-113 is not able to locate the source of the attack and so he does not return fire, letting his comrades exposed to the hailstorm that rains around the target while two soldiers are working between the disabled Patton and the doors of the M-113.

After this some dismounted light infantry force seems to take over the operation to hook the M-60 to a vehicle to tow it, once this is done and the cables begin to pull off the tank the soldiers withdraw keeping the guard next to the Patton, but as the bullets continue to fall very close they finally opt for running to finally reach a protected position.

Operation C – Assault on a location

A column of about 5 Toyotas with one of them being a technical with a M2 Browning HMG heads towards their target under the protection of the morning fog, once they reach their destination, a small town in the Sinai, the technical start shooting to provide heavy fire support.

CS fog
Note how they take advantage of the fog.
CS M2 Browning
The M2 provides an excellent mean of fire support.

A designated marksman with a PSL rifle supports the lot and lead them into a small assault group of 4 AK armed riflemen that in the end of the video rush into a hasty defensive position of the army which they capture.

Operation D – RPG Ambush

This small ambush is done by approximately 5 to 10 men, the key weapon being the ubiquitous RPG-7.

The ambush is established on the sloped approaches to a settlement where a long running ramp  prevents the incoming Egyptian forces to notice what is awaiting them beyond the hilltop, by taking advantage of this situation a RPG-7 along an AK armed terrorist are placed out of view in front of the top of the slope, overlooking the road at least three men armed with AKs are waiting and possibly there is another position with AKs and a PK is waiting on the other side next to the road.

S RPG ambush 150 metres app
RPG-7 ready to fire a few seconds before the AIFV appears on top of the slope

When the AIFV appears the RPG-7 opens fire at 150 metres, he has only one opportunity and a few seconds to aim but he fails, anyway looks like the sound is again the signal to begin the firefight and the other forces begin to fire over the AIFV, however the YPR presents an improved armor that easily deals with the assault rifle and MMG fire surviving to the ambush.

The boldness to prepare an ambush on the approaches of the village under direct sun light shows a certain level of connivance or at least passivity on the part of the local population,  also the use of the slope to prepare the ambush is a very good choice that also proves that they are familiar with the enviroment.

Operation E – RPG-7 Attack

Disgracefully this footage was cut and so it is too short, however we can see in the subtitles that a RPG is used to attack a vehicle, a Panthera T6 MRAP that gets a hit in the center, just after that we hear for a moment that an automatic gun begins to fire.

Normally a RPG-7 attack is accompanied by an ambush or at least a firefight which also happened in this case, the most remarkable thing is that they were able to approach at less than 200 metres to the unit with the RPG-7.

Operation F – Gang Style Attacks

While most times WS behaves like  a conventional military unit sometimes they adopt typical criminal gangs style attacks.

Like attacking lonely unplated vehicles just by approaching to them and firing their assault rifles at very close distance, for instance:

S attempt car 2

AA Operations

As usual most of the AA capabilities of this type of groups depend on the MANPADs, and in the case of WS we have seen that they have been able to get a few Soviet Strela-2s however for these to work they depend on the the batteries that tend to expire after a few years, that way the amount of MANPADs availble for WS is very scarce.

At the moment it has been confirmed that they were able to take down an AH-64 Apache and a Mi-17 with 5 soldiers inside it. They also claimed to have shot down a civilian airliner packed with Russian holyday goers heading back to Russia (Metrojet Flight 9268), but due to the altitude where it was allegedly hit, 13.000 meters it is absolutely impossible to reach for this kind of weapon, this claim stands as a gross and cheap attempt to generate propaganda.

It is also common also for most of the HMGs mounted on the technical to have a limited but effective AA capability at close ranges.

In one of the ISIS videos we saw how an AH-64 Apache was being attacked by one technical with a KPV mounted on it, the gunner was carefully firing and aiming to a target that was less than 1, 5 km away, a distance at wich a KPV can be lethal even for a well plated AH-64 that in this case probably received some impacts which thanks to its armor did not shoot it down.

At some point the AH-64 even faces the HMG directly but the gunners kept it cool and increased the rate of fire keeping control of the bursts which give us an idea about how well trained are these terrorists.

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Finally the AH-64 exits the area probably with several impacts, during all the scene we hear how there was another technical involved firing with a HMG in the same role, so there was a small AA box in there, somehow accidental, maybe improvised but still well managed as both gunners were able to survive and probably make the AH-64 exit the area.

Hiding and timing

When they are in a combat operation they usually drive at very high speed which could be possible thanks to some basic training for the drivers, they also tend to prefer foggy days to accomplish their missions, because the fog highly limits the early warning and air power of the defenders and allows for better options when in need of withdrawal.

Night operations are not rare however those are always close engagements because they have not the means to fight during the night other than just a few night vision devices captured to the Egyptian Army, IED attacks during night time are scaled operations. The camouflage techniques include the use of soil pasted to the technical bodies and the use of foliage and vegetation for cover.

We have also observed that they tend to choose certain moments of the day like the dawn or after the lunch, moments when people by nature or location are usually distracted.

Economy

The economic factor is quite difficult to know in full for now, but we can theorize based in previous experiences with similar groups.

WS is very alike to ISIL before they conquered a true territory so their economic base is probably funded on donations, both from Salafist supporters throughout the world or from local supporters with a wide variety of reasons from ideological to political or local motivations.

Another route of revenues can be certain criminal activities, bear in mind that the area of Rafah, where WS operates is probably one of Egypt’s biggest smuggling zones and they may be actively engaged in these activities by directly moving products or by charging a “revolutionary tax” in exchange of safety.

Also they probably sell part of the loot from their operations, especially unneeded equipment like assault rifles in exchange for more advanced and interesting equipment, like MANPADs or ATGMs.

Finally, based on what we have seen in the safe houses captured by the Egyptian Army it is sure that they try to build highly self-sufficient complexes: They buy their own welders, extract and produce their own explosives and their own shrapnel, finally they might use solar panels, why? How would you get energy in certain quantity in the middle of nowhere without arise suspicions from the Police that can look at the consume of electricity of isolated installations in the middle of the desert? Solar panels can be a good option for limited things, and also sun is very powerful over the Sinai.

This kind of safe houses/safe warehouses are a key component in the homemade R+D that WS practice and they are able to provide a refuge and the technical support needed for the preparations of certain operations.

Egyptian Forces

General View

Sometimes we have been able to see what it looks like a low level of discipline in some small quarters where the defensive structures are badly built and even look poorly kept by the garrison, the continue appearance of soldiers wearing civilian clothes is even more worrying as it shows a certain lack of diligence by superiors and we must take in mind that this kind of attitudes tend to be related to corruption and funds that do not reach their targets.

Also a lot of times we see lack of training or bad practices and habits from the soldiers when harassed under fire because in the videos about snipers of WS we see how soldiers return fire exactly from the same position where they were previously targeted and also engage in “spraying”, they return fire just by shooting at random positions.

A well trained soldier normally fires only were a suspected enemy position is perceived or for suppression but not in this messy way that only allows ISIS to kill more and more soldiers.

Abu Osama Al-Masri

It is assumed that Abu Osama Al-Masri was a textile merchant born in the Sinai who has lead Wilayath Sinai since 2013 when the previous leader was killed by Egyptian security forces.

Apparently he only appeared in some of the following few images.

B ATGM 6B LE 2B LeAl Masri

But we think he also appeared in other ISIS videos hiding his identity however, let’s take a look at certain key indicatives in the next series of photos.

Every number indicates an object that appears in several images and that can be consider uncommon or even rare, the numbers are also ordered from more rare to just uncommon:

  1. Pose (rare): he has a very particular pose when he is stand up and static with the arms backward in comparison with the trunk and in general it is a very peculiar and relaxed pose.
  2. Pistol and strap (rare): a very specific sheath with a strap and a pistol, which normally is typical of high ranking officers, and even more in WS.
  3. ATGM (rare): the ability to use such weapon not just because normally you need some training, but also because the small amount of ATGMs that WS has available meaning that there are also a limited number of operators.
  4. Short globes (particular): short military globes with a specific cammo pattern.
  5. Watch (particular): a particular watch with four metal garments that shine when lit by sunlight.
  6. Shirt (uncommon): a shirt with a specific cammo pattern
  7. Balaclava (uncommon): three color pattern balaclava, not rare between jihadis
  8. Boots (uncommon): very good quality boots not always seen in WS.
01
Image 1.
B LE 2
Image 2, look at his pose.
Fin Oct 2015 4
Image 3, ook at his pose.
Fin Oct 2015 6
Image 4, look at his pose.
Fin Oct 2015 9
Image 5 *The boots ca be seen in other images taken from other angles.
03
Image 6
04
Image 7
05
Image 8

On the Image 4 you can also guess that there is some sort of hierarchical relation between the gunner who, in our opinion may be Al-Masri and the loader behind him who is awaiting with a belt of cartridges to feed the MG, also the man with the AK behind them look to be waiting orders.

While it may be hard to confirm the coincidences in this case it is also true that they look suspicious, due particularly to the highly telling posing and gesturing and the teaching and use of the ATGMs.

It is thought that Al-Masri had not relation with the Egyptian military other than maybe his compulsory military service, so his ability to use the 9K133 might indicate contacts in the military or support from outside.

For all the interested I have created a folder with all the images and videos I used to make this analysis, there you will find evidences and useful resources, especially most of all the videos of Wilayath Sinai until 2017. LINK.

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