During the last week of August, I spent a few nights in the villages of the northern Sinai Peninsula where Islamist militants have been hiding and operating since the January 25 Revolution. It was a pitch-black night when I drove around with a tribal kingpin; he took back roads, drove slowly, turned off his headlights and clearly knew the consequences of being spotted by a military checkpoint.

“This is Abu Mounir’s mosque; it’s run and controlled by Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad,” he said as we drove into Muqataa village. I had seen the mosque before and heard stories of its jihadist cleric and operational commander, Sheikh Abu Mounir. “They are not as powerful as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis [Partisans of Jerusalem], Majlis Shura al-Mujahedeen [Mujahedeen Shura Council] or Al-Salafeyya al-Jihadeyya [Salafist Jihadist Group], but they are widely feared as well,” he added.

“They are different groups, but they coordinate and sometimes run shared operations … and they are affiliated to al-Qaeda in one way or another,” said the tribesman. “There are around 1,000 al-Qaeda fighters here in the Sinai Peninsula, operating under the different groups, and a lot of them are foreigners,” he added. In mid-2012, he had confirmed to me that Palestinians, Yemenis and Libyans were operating in the Sinai Peninsula. […]