At least 32 people were killed in Egypt when militants army and police targets attacked Egypt in Sinai
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi canceled a visit to Ethiopia for an African Union summit after his country’s security forces experienced one of the bloodiest days in their peace history.
At least 32 people were killed on Thursday in a series of attacks on soldiers and police officers in northeastern Sinai, in which the government struggled to contain an 18-month riot by militants related to the Islamic State (Isis).
Isis’ subsidiary in the Sinai province assumed responsibility for the killings after warning on jihadist forums earlier on the day an attack was imminent. The subsidiary, known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis until it declared allegiance to Isis in November, recently released pictures of its masked armed men training in the desert.
The Egyptian army said militants had attacked military and police bases in Arish, the region’s capital, with car bombs and mortar attacks, and that hostilities were ongoing around midnight.
According to private Egyptian media, the attacks centered on barracks, an army-owned hotel and police headquarters, although the army did not confirm the details. Earlier in the day, the army reportedly suffered casualties after being trapped between two militant lines.
Health officials said at least 32 people died, most of them soldiers.
The military presented the attacks as a by-product of a successful counterinsurgency campaign, claiming they were “the result of recent successful strikes by the armed forces and police against terrorists”.
However, Thursday’s attack showed that in reality, despite a range of counter-terrorism measures, the army is fighting to contain an insurgency in the region, including the region’s state of emergency, the establishment of a curfew, entry and exit restrictions, and demolition Hundreds of homes in the border town of Rafah.
The attack follows another major attack on an army checkpoint last November when a similar number of soldiers died. This attack was considered to be almost unprecedented in the context of peacetime attacks on the Egyptian military.
The uprising did not spread to the tourist centers of South Sinai, but in the pockets of Northeast Sinai the army could not prevent militants from frequently setting up their own checkpoints through which the jihadists kidnapped and murdered police officers.
The destruction of parts of Rafah that spanned the Gaza border began after the military claimed that the smugglers’ tunnels to the Palestinian enclave enabled militants to seek refuge across the border. Soldiers are about to destroy all houses within a kilometer of Gaza.
Critics of the project say politics did not stop the insurrection and that neutral locals risk supporting or joining the insurgents. “Every country has the right to secure its borders,” a local told the Guardian at the time. “[But] If I just take security measures, it will come back to haunt me. “
Many Egyptians disagree with such concerns: fears of instability and terrorism have led many to support the government’s persistent approach in both Rafah and the rest of the country.
Northeast Sinai was the scene of extremist attacks for several years, but violence increased significantly after the fall of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. His Islamist government had persuaded the militants to take a quiet approach.
Not all insurgents are believed to be from the region, but they have tried to address local anger in the north of the peninsula, where the mostly Bedouin population has complained about the neglect by the authorities in Cairo and where few of the famous ones Tourist resorts have benefited in the more peaceful south.