26 slain as militants pummel Sinai with rockets, bombs
Mortars fired at police headquarters, housing compound and checkpoints in restive north of peninsula; Islamic State affiliate takes credit for attack
EL-ARISH, Egypt — Islamic State-linked militants struck more than a dozen army and police targets in the restive Sinai Peninsula with simultaneous attacks involving a car bomb and mortar rounds on Thursday, killing at least 26 security officers.
An Army spokesman immediately blamed former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, which killed 25 Army soldiers and one policeman.
The wide-ranging attacks late Thursday required a previously unseen level of coordination. At least one car bomb was set off outside a military base, while mortars were simultaneously fired at the base, toppling some buildings and leaving soldiers buried under the debris, official said.
Other attacks included mortar rounds fired at a hotel, a police club and more than a dozen checkpoints, officials said.
The militants struck the Northern Sinai provincial capital el-Arish, the nearby town of Sheik Zuwayid and the town of Rafah bordering Gaza.
Hours before the attack, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt posted on its official Twitter account pictures of masked militants dressed in black. They were carrying rocket-propelled grenades in a show of force, while flying the Islamic State black flag.
The Islamic State affiliate later took credit for Thursday’s attacks on Twitter, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
At least 60 people were wounded in the attack, according to medical officials, who also confirmed the death toll. Officials said the death toll was expected to rise. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
In a statement posted on his official Facebook page, Army Spokesman Ahmed Samir blamed the Muslim Brotherhood group for orchestrating the attacks.
In a brief statement, he said that because of the “successful strikes” by army and police against terrorist elements in Sinai, militants attacked a number of army and police headquarters using car bombs and mortars. He said that security forces are exchanging gunfire with the militants.
The explosions smashed windows and shook residential areas in el-Arish. Electricity went off across el-Arish.
The army chief-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the ouster of Morsi, has been depicted as by nationalist media as the rescuer of Egypt from Islamic militancy.
El-Sissi led a wide crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, who staged near daily demonstrations demanding Morsi’s reinstatement, imprisoning thousands and killing hundreds in street protests.
In apparent retaliation, militants launched a spate of attacks that ranged from homemade explosive devices to suicide attacks.
The areas where the attacks took place have been under a state of emergency and a curfew since October, when militants killed 31 soldiers in an attack on a checkpoint in Sinai, the deadliest for the military in recent history.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack in a video posting that showed militants spraying soldiers with bullets and vowing more attacks.
In an attempt to stop weapons smuggling to and from the Gaza Strip, authorities demolished houses and residential buildings located within 500 meters (550 yards) of the border, where a complex network of tunnels had long been used to bring consumer goods, as well as weapons and fighters, to and from the Palestinian territory.
Sinai-based militants have exploited long-held grievances in the impoverished north of the peninsula, where the mainly Bedouin population has complained of neglect by Cairo authorities and where few have benefited from the famed tourist resorts in the more peaceful southern part of Sinai. The police in northern Sinai largely fled during the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, as militants attacked their stations and killed scores of security forces.
An Islamic State affiliate previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has launched several attacks against police and the army in Sinai in recent years
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was initially inspired by al-Qaeda, but last year it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The Thursday attacks are expected to cause a great deal of embarrassment to the Egyptian government and military after nearly a yearlong offensive in Sinai aimed at uprooting Islamic militants under the banner of fighting terrorism, is largely failing.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.