Abu Osama al-Masri, 42, is the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate in Sinai Province, who fled to Syria after Eyptian President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was toppled in military coup in 2013, then returned to Sinai and embraced ISIS’s goal of creating a global Islamic caliphate.
UK Daily Mail (h/t David Y) The Islamic State mastermind suspected of blowing up the Russian holiday jet is a former clothes importer who sought revenge for Egypt’s bloody crackdown on radical Islamists after the 2013 coup. Secretive Egyptian cleric Abu Osama al-Masri, 42, has been named by Western intelligence chiefs as the prime suspect behind the attack on Metrojet Flight 9268 which killed 224 people.
He is leader of Sinai Province – formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – which swore allegiance to ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last year and has targeted Egyptian soldiers and police since the military toppled President Mohamed Mursi after mass protests two years ago.
Abu Osama al-Masri was radicalized and took up arms in Sinai before heading to Syria with about 20 followers when security forces clamped down on Islamists after Morsi’s ouster, sources said. There, he and the other fighters gained experience that would prove useful upon their eventual return to the Sinai, when they were approached by Islamic State and embraced its goal of creating a caliphate across the Muslim world.
If solid evidence emerges it attacked the aircraft, that would instantly propel the group and Masri to the top of the jihadi ladder, with one of the deadliest attacks since Al Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. If a bomb knocked Airbus A321 out of the sky, that would challenge Egypt’s assertions that it had brought under control militants who have carried out high-profile attacks on senior government officials and Western targets.
Security experts and investigators have said the plane is unlikely to have been struck from the outside and Sinai militants are not believed to have any missiles capable of striking a jet at 30,000 feet.
Sinai Province is partly the product of Egypt’s efforts to eliminate militancy, which has threatened the most populous Arab country for decades, according to the intelligence sources. The three officials, who closely follow the Sinai-based insurgency, say many of its fighters fled to Syria after Morsi was removed and then army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi unleashed security forces on Islamists, both moderate and radical.
The state security crackdown launched against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists has gained the Islamic State’s Sinai branch significant local support, allowing its fighters to hide and operate among ordinary people, he said.
During Morsi’s time, security officials allege, militants from Al Qaeda, including some who had travelled from as far away as Afghanistan, had a free hand in Sinai. They included about 4,000 fighters who would form the core of Sinai Province, which was called Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis before declaring its support for Islamic State last year, said the officials.
The crackdown on Islamists by Sisi – now president – led to many militants being killed, jailed or fleeing for countries like Syria and Libya.