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Sinai Militants Bring Down a Helicopter, But With Whose Missile?

Militants shot down an Egyptian Air Force helicopter last weekend with a shoulder-launched missile. But no one is sure where it came from.

by Ryan Faith
Jan 29 2014, 6:15pm

Last weekend, the Egyptian military announced that five people had been killed in an Air Force helicopter crash. But a video released Saturday night by the militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis seemed to indicate it wasn't a crash — it was an attack. The video (below) shows what they claim is a militant firing a missile at the helicopter and bringing it down. Even amid all the strife in the region, that missile is particularly alarming.

Insurgent activity in Egypt, especially in the Sinai Peninsula where Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is known to operate, has been on the rise in recent months following last year's removal of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. The growing unrest in Egypt has resulted in several attacks on oil and gas pipelines, including two since the start of the year. Militant groups have also carried out several bombings.

The video begins at 1:50.

A successful attack on an Egyptian helicopter is especially notable, however, and it has raised significant concerns among observers. Militaries prize helicopters for, among other things, their usefulness in counter-insurgency operations and low-intensity conflicts. As such, insurgent groups often go to great lengths to obtain the ability to shoot down enemy helicopters. But it isn't easy.

The 2011 Libyan War to depose Muammar Gaddafi resulted in the shipment of large numbers of weapons from the West to Libyan insurgents. Many reports suggest that these shipments included shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). The fall of the Libyan regime and subsequent raiding of Libyan Army bases almost certainly added even more MANPADS to militant arsenals throughout the region. American officials who have seen the video have speculated that the missile used may be a type quite common in Libyan stockpiles, but ultimately it's impossible to tell whether the missile is from the Libyan Army, from Western sources, or from someplace else altogether. The one thing that appears certain is that militants in the region now have the power to take down aircraft.