Mil­i­tants launch at­tacks on Egyp­tian army check­points in Si­nai

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD - BY ASHRAF SWEILAM

Is­lamic mil­i­tants on Wed­nes­day un­leashed a wave of si­mul­ta­ne­ous at­tacks, in­clud­ing sui­cide car bomb­ings, on Egyp­tian army check­points in the restive north­ern Si­nai Penin­sula, killing at least 50 sol­diers, se­cu­rity and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

The co-or­di­nated morn­ing as­saults in Si­nai came a day af­ter Egypt’s pres­i­dent pledged to step up the bat­tle against Is­lamic mil­i­tants and two days af­ter the coun­try’s state pros­e­cu­tor was as­sas­si­nated in the cap­i­tal, Cairo. The at­tacks set off fierce fight­ing be­tween the army and the mil­i­tants that con­tin­ued into Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon — the fiercest clashes in decades in the penin­sula.

The scope and in­ten­sity of the at­tacks un­der­scored the re­silience and ad­vanced plan­ning by the mil­i­tants who have for years bat­tled Egyp­tian se­cu­rity forces in north­ern Si­nai but in­ten­si­fied their in­sur­gency over the past two years just as the gov­ern­ment threw more re­sources into the drawn-out fight.

An Is­lamic State af­fil­i­ate in Egypt claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for Wed­nes­day’s at­tacks, say­ing its fight­ers tar­geted a to­tal of 15 army and po­lice po­si­tions and staged three sui­cide bomb­ings, two of which tar­geted check­points and one that hit an of­fi­cers’ club in the nearby city of el-Ar­ish.

The au­then­tic­ity of the claim could not be im­me­di­ately ver­i­fied but it was posted on a Face­book page as­so­ci­ated with the group.

Ex­cept for the at­tack at the of­fi­cers’ club, the rest took place in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and tar­geted at least six mil­i­tary check­points, the of­fi­cials said. The mil­i­tants also took sol­diers cap­tive and seized weapons and sev­eral armoured ve­hi­cles, they added, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity in line with reg­u­la­tions.

At least 55 sol­diers were wounded, the of­fi­cials also said. As fight­ing raged, an army Apache gun­ship de­stroyed one of the armoured car­ri­ers cap­tured by the mil­i­tants as they were driv­ing it away, the of­fi­cials added.

Egypt’s mil­i­tary spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mo­hammed Samir, said clashes were still un­der­way in the area be­tween the armed forces and the mil­i­tants.

His state­ment put the num­ber of sol­diers killed so far at 10, but the con­flict­ing num­bers could not im­me­di­ately be rec­on­ciled in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of a ma­jor at­tack.

Samir’s state­ment, posted on his of­fi­cial Face­book page, said some 70 mil­i­tants at­tacked five check­points in north­ern Si­nai and that Egyp­tian troops killed 22 of them and de­stroyed three all­ter­rain ve­hi­cles fit­ted with an­ti­air­craft guns.

Later Wed­nes­day, Samir said on his Face­book page that the coun­try’s armed forces tar­geted two mil­i­tant gath­er­ings in north­ern Si­nai, com­pletely de­stroy­ing them.

The Egyp­tian air force is “tar­get­ing ter­ror­ists on the ground as clashes con­tinue,’’ he said, though he did not give a new fig­ure for mil­i­tant ca­su­al­ties.

An Egyp­tian soldier watches from a post in Egypt's north­ern Si­nai Penin­sula, as seen from the Is­rael-Egypt bor­der, in Kerem Shalom town, south­ern Is­rael, Wed­nes­day.

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