As the Islamic State increases its efforts to attack Egypt’s Coptic Christians, the terror group is also seeking to impose its own version of Islamic law along the country’s border with Gaza.
According to Reuters, ISIS has formed a morality police force known as the Hisba, which is responsible for enforcing rules against certain behaviors like smoking, men shaving their beards or women exposing their faces.
North Sinai resident Shaher Saeed witnessed the militants enforcing its strict rules on a man who drove a truck carrying cigarettes in early April.
“I saw them forcing the driver from the vehicle and stripping the upper part of his clothing before tying him to the door of one of their cars,” he recounted.
“They hit him on the back more than 10 times, then burned all the cartons of cigarettes … They let him go after warning him not to trade cigarettes again,” he added.
ISIS videos, along with testimonies from residents, suggest that the terror group’s local affiliate, known as Sinai Province, is attempting to impose its version of Sharia on the local populace for the first time.
The group has previously targeted police, soldiers and their informants, but it has now stepped up its attacks against Christians inside and outside its predominant area of operations in North Sinai.
Analysts say the change in tactics reflect how ISIS is expanding its operations in Egypt as it faces significant setbacks in Iraq, Syria and Libya. The terror group has attempted to stoke sectarian tensions and social unrest in Egypt even though it failed to capture territory in the country.
In March, a 25-minute video was posted on an internet channel often used by the terror group, showing militants announcing the creation of Hisba in North Sinai.
The video, which has since been removed from the internet, featured enforcers hitting a man with plastic tubing and beheading two elderly adherents of Sufi Islam.
In February, Sinai Province reportedly released a video, in which it declared that it would wipe out Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s population of 92 million.
Last month, at least 45 people were killed in two church bombings carried out by ISIS militants on Palm Sunday, prompting the Egyptian government to declare a state of emergency.
Despite President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s promise to protect Christians and drive out radical elements, ISIS has retained its influence over Egypt through its continued attacks and its affiliation with hardline groups.
Mona Barhoum, a local rights activist from Rafah, noted that even though the terror group does not control the region, its affiliates “are present, they pop up like a jack-in-the-box, they kill or kidnap someone and go back into hiding.”