Egypt says top terrorist in ISIS-linked group killed in shootout

Who is ISIS in Sinai Peninsula?
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Story highlights

  • Analyst says militant's death likely "has little implication" for the group in Sinai
  • It's unclear whether Egypt believes the terrorist was involved in the Metrojet crash
  • Ashraf Ali Ali Hassanein al-Gharabali is accused of previous attack attempts

(CNN)A leader in an ISIS-affiliated Egyptian terrorist group has been killed, Egypt's state media reported Monday.

That terrorist group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has claimed responsibility for downing the Russian Metrojet flight last month.
    Egyptian authorities have said it's too soon to tell what caused the crash, and they haven't accused Ashraf Ali Ali Hassanein al-Gharabali of being involved. But the government's announcement of his death Monday comes as authorities face questions over security after the crash and push to project a tough stance on terrorism.
    Gharabali was killed in a shootout with security forces at a checkpoint in the El-Marg district in northeastern Cairo, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing Egypt's Interior Ministry.
    Officers were attempting to carry out an arrest warrant against Gharabali. Police were approaching Gharabali's vehicle when he attempted to flee and opened fire with a pistol, MENA said. Details on when the incident took place were not immediately forthcoming from the ministry.
    MENA described Gharabali as "the most dangerous leader" of the group, which goes by various names, including ISIS in Sinai Peninsula. He was allegedly involved in the attempted assassination of Egypt's former interior minister and the thwarted attack on the the Karnak Temple in Luxor in June. the agency said.
    The Egyptian Interior Ministry described him as "the mastermind" of a number of organized attacks in Egypt.
    One analyst appeared skeptical that Gharabali had any tie to the group's Sinai operations, noting that he's been accused of involvement in attacks on Egypt's mainland.
    "I'm afraid his death has little implication on the group's operations in Sinai or those responsible for the alleged bombing of the Metrojet flight," Mokhtar Awad, an expert on ISIS in the Sinai at the Center for American Progress, said in a written statement.

    The 'Sinai Province' of ISIS

    The U.S. State Department designated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis a terrorist organization in April 2014. The group pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014.
    The State Department wrote in the designation that the group generally focuses its attacks locally and has targeted Israel, security services, tourists and government officials.
    The State Department said ABM has carried out various attacks using rockets, missiles, suicide bombers and car bombs.
    It tried to assassinate the Egyptian interior minister in September 2013, according to the State Department. It claimed responsibility for the assassination of another Interior Ministry official in January 2014.
    While the group shares some ideology with al Qaeda, it is "not a formal AQ affiliate," according to the State Department.
    ABM has often relied on Nile Valley-based jihadi groups to carry out attacks outside of the Sinai Peninsula, according to Awad, a research associate with the Center for American Progress and a leading analyst on the group.
    Awad and Samuel Tadros wrote in an article in the Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel that many of those groups are aligned with al Qaeda. ABM's decision to pledge allegiance to ISIS "has created the specter of competition with (al Qaeda) and alienated a significant number of jihadis on the Egyptian mainland."

    Connections to Metrojet

    British and U.S. officials have said they believe a bomb brought down the Metrojet plane, based on intercepted communications between ISIS-linked militants in Sinai and ISIS operatives in Syria.
    Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is one of the most active of all the ISIS affiliates and has bomb-making capabilities, according to U.S. intelligence. If the group did plant a bomb on the plane, it would represent an increase in sophistication.
    The Sinai affiliate has publicly claimed responsibility for downing the plane, but so far hasn't explained how it was done. That's prompted questions about the claim among some observers, considering ISIS' tendency to often publicize its acts for propaganda value.