Death toll rises in Sinai attacks
Published 01/07/2015 | 09:26
Islamic militants have unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks on Egyptian army checkpoints in the northern Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 38 soldiers.
The coordinated 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 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 the 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, 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 54 other soldiers were wounded, the officials 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 under way in the area between the armed forces and the militants.
The officials said scores of militants were besieging Sheikh Zuweid's main police station, shelling it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and exchanging fire with dozens of policemen inside.
Northern Sinai has over the past two years witnessed a series of complex and successful attacks targeting Egyptian security forces, many of which have been claimed by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group.
The attacks came just two days after the assassination in Cairo of the country's top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, and one day after President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed to step up a two-year crackdown on militants.
Last week, Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called in an audio message on IS followers to launch massive attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is now entering its third week.
Militants in northern Sinai, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, have battled security forces for years but stepped up their attacks following the July 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after days of mass street protests against his rule.
The United States has strongly condemned the massive coordinated attack on Egyptian troops that killed at least 53 soldiers in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
White House spokesman Ned Price said the assault is a terrorist attack and that the US "stands resolutely" with Egypt.
He said the US extends condolences to the relatives of those who died, as well as to the government and the Egyptian people.
The White House says the US will continue working in partnership with Egypt to address threats to its security amid a series of recent attacks.