As the Islamic State’s (IS) claim for taking down KGL9268—the Russian plane that crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31—seems increasingly plausible by the day, British officials have now identified Abu Usama al-Masri as a “person of interest” in the matter.
For years, Masri has been the leading (if not the only) representative of IS’ Sinai Province and its predecessor, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (“Ansar Jerusalem”).
“It is not at all surprising that Masri would be either directly behind the downing of the Russian plane, or at least a powerful motivational force to those that planned the attack,” says SITE Director Rita Katz. “Masri is the only official in Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and IS’ Sinai Province to be directly named and featured in the groups’ releases.”
Masri’s spoken words have been a rallying device for jihadists for years, and have often been placed into video releases as supplementary audio. To the point of taking down aircraft, Masri’s voice was featured in a January 2014 Ansar Beit al-Maqdis video claiming the downing of a military helicopter in the region. He threatened:
Armored vehicles will not benefit you, nor the fortifications, or the prepared aircrafts, because we are the soldiers of Allah. His anger is against whomever disbelieved and fought His religion.
Less than a year later, in June of 2014, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis released a video on the October 2013 bombing of the Egyptian military intelligence headquarters in Ismailia, which the group had claimed responsibility for. The video, similar to the aforementioned one, then showed a shot of the explosion from inside a nearby car while audio of a speech from Masri played, wherein he stated, “We lay down our necks before the throats of the Muslims, and our blood before theirs.”
Other releases to feature audio from Masri included an August 2015 video, titled, "They are the Enemies, so Beware of Them, 2" (the second within a series of videos) showing the interrogation and beheading of spies. In the video, Masri’s voice called on Muslims in Egypt to wage jihad against Israel and Egypt amid their collaborative “conspiracy” to spy on Muslims.
Masri was first visually shown in a July 30, 2014 video by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (though with his face blurred), wherein he gave a fervent Eid al-Fitr sermon to a group of fighters in Sinai. The speech also showed Masri expressing support for IS:
O Allah, support our brothers in the Islamic State! O Allah, support our brothers in the Islamic State! O Allah, open Baghdad for them, and open for them the rest of the lands, and open for them the hearts of the worshippers, O Lord of the Worlds!
Masri’s support for IS would later be validated as an omen to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’ November 9, 2014 pledge to IS, which officially branded the group as IS’ Sinai Province.
Less than a month after the pledge, Masri appeared in another video, released as the second installment of the “Documenting the Crimes of the Egyptian-Zionist Alliance Against the Peoples of Sinai” video series. Masri, with his face blurred again, sat beside four fighters allegedly killed by Egyptian military forces and called for jihadists to take up arms. The video solidified Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’ transformed status as an IS province through its IS-branded logos and Masri’s promotion of IS’ Caliphate:
Here it is, the State of the Caliphate has been declared, and now there is no excuse for anyone at all. The province has been announced, and its Caliph called to mobilize for it. Everyone who seeks knowledge, or even wants to ask and know what he must do in accordance with Shariah at this time, the Caliphate of the Muslims has been declared…