Veteran GetReligion readers -- or religion-beat pros with a global perspective -- are probably familiar with the work of Dr. Jenny Taylor, a foreign-affairs reporter turned media critic, and Lapido Media, which is also known as the Centre for Religious Literacy in World Affairs.
I have featured "think pieces" from Lapido (which means "to speak up" in the Acholi dialect of Northern Uganda) here many times and will continue to do so. The simple fact of the matter is that news media on the other side of the pond are being forced -- ambushed by reality, really -- to take religion more seriously. Lapido's work is playing a role in helping journalists, and diplomats, dig deeper.
This brings me to the site's new briefing paper on the rise of Wilayat Sinai, the Islamic State affiliate that is on the rise in Egypt. This group was almost unknown in North American media -- until the alleged downing of that Russian airliner the other day.
So, reporters, are you like me? Is the name Abu Osama al-Masry almost totally foreign to you? Then this Lapido Media think piece -- continuing work the centre began publishing a year ago -- needs to go in your files. A sample or two? Sure.
A former Azhar student and clothing importer Abu Osama al-Masry claimed responsibility on behalf of Wilayat Sinai. ‘They were shocked by a people who sought the hereafter, loved death, and had a thirst for blood’, he said.
‘We will inherit your soil, homes, wealth, and capture your women! This is Allah’s promise’.
Al-Masry, a nom-de-guerre indicating he is Egyptian, is said to have been born in northern Sinai but grew up in Sharqiya in the eastern Nile Delta.The 42-year-old former student at the Muslim world’s most prestigious seat of learning, al-Azhar in Cairo, al-Masry is said to be 'well versed in Islamic jurisprudence' and 'eloquent in quoting the Quran'.
Wilayat Sinai, meaning ‘the province of Sinai’, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on 10 November, 2014.It was previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), translated roughly as ‘Supporters of Jerusalem’ -- implying the same apocalyptic zeal as IS.
There are dots to connect, in this case, a number of stories that individually received little attention in the mainstream press. But add them together and one gets -- ambitions and strategies that resemble ISIS.
If the Russian airline attack is confirmed, it will not have been the first time Wilayat Sinai has targeted foreigners.
Strategy, however, is shifting from attacking tourism in Egypt as part of an economic war, to attacking tourists in retaliation for their nation’s policies.
In February 2014 the group killed two South Koreans and an Egyptian driver in a bus traveling from St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.
They also claimed responsibility for the hideous executions of American oil worker William Henderson in August 2014, and the Croatian Tomislav Salopek in August 2015.
In addition to the acts of terrorism listed above, ABM has been a leading force in a long list of attacks in Sinai and the Egyptian mainland.
The small Christian population of roughly 650 families in the Sinai have also suffered at their hands. Many have relocated, though local Muslims have promised to protect them.
Targeting Christians is only one of the ways Wilayat Sinai is imitating the Islamic State. Mixing terror and piety, they have beheaded opponents and moved against drug trafficking. They have appealed to the sympathy of Bedouin tribes and distributed money to those whose homes have been destroyed in the conflict.
But Wilayat Sinai has so far failed to reproduce the primary marker of the Islamic State – territorial acquisition. They hide out in the desert, mix with the people, plant roadside bombs, and adopt guerilla tactics, but have failed to claim and hold land.
It has not been for want of trying.
Read it all, and then open a digital file. Journalists who cover religion at the global level will want to bookmark Lapido Media.