The intelligence official who said there are signs of a new Sinai-based group said initial assessments indicated the Popular Resistance Committees‘ role was limited to providing advance scouting of locations for the attack.
“PRC was clearly involved, [but] they were not the brains or the brawn of the operation. They were the scouts,” the official said. “Because the PRC squawked after the operation, they became an immediate target. It is not an unjustifiable reaction.”
A U.S. counterterrorism official said initial U.S. reports on the attack also blamed al Qaeda in the Sinai. This official also said the U.S. government had no information to suggest al Qaeda’s core leadership - thought to be based in Pakistan - ordered or supported the attack.
“This is an example of Salafi extremists who tried to link themselves to al Qaeda and use that brand name,” the counterterrorism official said, adding that it would be premature to say al Qaeda in the Sinai is an al Qaeda affiliate the way others, like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or al-Shabab in Somalia, are direct affiliates of al Qaeda.
U.S. intelligence reports have said the Sinai terrorist group has a few rudimentary training facilities in the region, as well as strategic control of some towns. The group also is suspected of conducting other recent attacks on a natural gas pipeline in Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
In late July, commandos stormed the police station at the northernSinai regional capital of al-Arish. The attackers then produced a manifesto announcing an Islamic emirate in Sinai, calling themselves al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.
“After the attack on al-Arish, there was no longer any doubt that al Qaeda had some kind of potent presence in the peninsula,” another U.S. official told The Washington Times.
The success of the new group prompted Egypt’s military this month to launch what it called Operation Eagle, a deployment of up to 2,500 troops and 250 military vehicles, according to news reports from the region.
Israel has coordinated the movement of Egyptian troops in the peninsula with the ruling military junta in Cairo since February, allowing up to five battalions in the peninsula. The terms of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt prohibit Egyptian troops in the Sinai unless Israel gives its approval.