Extremist Islamist group Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis has denied reports that one of its leading figures, Shadi Al-Menei has been killed in a military operation in Sinai.
The group released a statement on a jihadist website on Sunday, together with what it said were photos of Menei taken after he had reportedly been killed in a clash with security forces on Friday.
The statement said: “Here they are announcing the death of our brother Shadi Al-Menei and that he is the emir of the group, when he was not killed, nor is he the emir of the group.”
One of the photos appears to show Menei using a laptop computer, while the two other pictures show him standing among a group of masked gunmen, with a backdrop of four-wheel drive vehicles and Al-Qaeda flags.
Maj. Gen. Sameh Seif El-Yazal, head of the El-Gomhoria Center for Security Studies, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that Menei had been killed and the denial issued by the group was an attempt to lift the morale of its members.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The reports about the death of Menei are absolutely true and the pictures shown are old ones.”
He added that the operation in which Menei was killed was carried out by the army and armed tribesmen and that the forces followed accurate information about his being present in the car that was attacked.
Seif El-Yazal added that Menei’s supporters managed to remove his body and those of the others who were in the car minutes after the operation. He said Sinai Bedouins participated in the operation and that “there was blood between the tribes and Menei,” but he did not go into further detail.
Leaders of the security forces said Menei took over the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis group following the death of Tawfiq Mohammed Freij (aka Abu Abdullah), who Egyptian security forces said was killed in March. The group also denied that Freij was its leader and said in the same statement that “the army so far does not know who the emir of this group is.”
The Sinai based militant group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on military and police targets as well as an attack which killed three South Korean tourists in February. In March it announced that Abu Abdullah, one of its founders, had been killed in a road accident which caused a bomb he was carrying to explode.
Sunday’s statement added: “We hereby announce that the emir of the group and all its leaders are in good health and that they are well among their jihadist brothers, carrying out their duties in the service of God.”
An Egyptian court issued a judicial order in April declaring Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis a terrorist group, while the US also added the group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations in the same month.
The US Department of State said the Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis group shared the ideology of Al-Qaeda, but that it was not officially affiliated to it.