The advanced planning and co-ordinated execution of the attacks show the long-running insurgency in the area is growing stronger, posing a serious threat to Egypt’s security as the military-backed government struggles to restore stability after years of unrest since the 2011 uprising.
The assault came a day after Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the chief prosecutor was assassinated in the capital, Cairo. Officials said 50 militants were killed in fierce fighting that started in the early morning and was still raging at dusk — the deadliest battle in Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Later in the day, a special forces team killed nine members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, including a former member of parliament, in a raid on an apartment in Cairo’s Sixth of October district, security officials said. The team was fired upon when they entered the home and returned fire, killing the nine men. No security forces were hurt, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One of the dead was Nasr al-Hafi, a former deputy in the lower house of parliament for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, while the other was a Brotherhood leader, Abdel-Fattah Mohamed Ibrahim.
Egyptian officials and pro-government media have blamed a series of recent attacks on ousted president Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is officially branded a terrorist group. The Brotherhood denied involvement in the attacks, many of which have been claimed by other groups, including the Sinai-based militants behind Wednesday’s co-ordinated assault, who are loyal to the Islamic State group.
The Sinai attacks underscored the resilience of the militants, who have battled Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai for more than a decade but have intensified their insurgency since the 2013 military overthrow of Morsi, even as the military has deployed reinforcements, imposed strict curfews and demolished homes and tunnels along the border with Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The Islamic State affiliate claimed yesterday’s attacks, saying its fighters targeted 15 army and police positions and staged three suicide bombings, two that targeted checkpoints and one that hit an officers’ club. The claim’s authenticity could not be immediately verified.
“This specific attack is by far the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Daniel Nisman, CEO for the Levantine Group risk consultancy. “It’s not a hit-and-run — this is what they used in places like Syria and Iraq to actually capture and hold territory.”