Death toll in car bomb, shooting attack in Egypt’s Sinai rises to 26
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Death toll in car bomb, shooting attack in Egypt’s Sinai rises to 26

Victims are Egyptian soldiers; officials say 40 assailants killed in complex assault on checkpoint near Rafah that went on at least 30 minutes

Members of the Egyptian security forces stand guard near the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 6, 2017. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)
Members of the Egyptian security forces stand guard near the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 6, 2017. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

EL-ARISH, Egypt — The death toll in a complex attack Friday on several checkpoints in Sinai that included car bombings and shootings has risen to 26.

The victims were Egyptian soldiers. An initial report said the attack killed 10.

The officials said the blitz attack began when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at a military compound in the southern Rafah village of El-Barth, bordering the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, followed by heavy gunfire from dozens of masked fighters on foot.

The dead included a high-ranking special forces officer, Col. Ahmed el-Mansi, and at least 20 others were wounded in the attack. Ambulance sirens were heard from a distance as they rushed to the site. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

The military said it killed 40 assailants as it clashed with extremists in North Sinai, where the Islamic State group is leading a deadly insurgency.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Egypt in recent years has been battling a stepped-up insurgency in northern Sinai, mainly by fighters from an Islamic State group affiliate.

Security officials said the militants arrived at the site of the checkpoint — located in a remote, deserted area — in some 24 Land Cruiser SUVs. The militants opened fire on the soldiers with machine guns for nearly half an hour, they said. The force at the compound is estimated at 60 troops.

After the attack, the attackers looted the checkpoint, taking weapons and ammunition. It was unclear if they took over armored vehicles as well.

Witnesses said that they saw Apache helicopters carrying out airstrikes across Rafah after the attack.

The next army compound is an hour’s drive, which left the soldiers with no support except for local, armed tribesmen from Tarabeen who have their own small checkpoints nearby.

The area of the attack is an IS stronghold and the location of fierce battles in the spring between the tribesmen and terrorists.

Jihadists have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in attacks in North Sinai since the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and launched a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

Over the past months, IS has focused its attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority and carried out at least four deadly attacks that killed dozens, prompting army chief-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to declare a state of emergency in the country. However, the restive northeastern Sinai has been under a state of emergency since October 2014 after Islamic militants killed more than 30 soldiers in a single attack.

IS has also attacked tourists, killing all 224 on board a Russian plane carrying holidaymakers in 2015, as well as Christian churches in mainland Egypt.

While failing to seize territories, IS fighters in Sinai have a strong presence in western and southern Rafah, the outskirts of Sheikh Zuweid, and inside the residential area of the Sinai’s largest city, El-Arish.

The Sinai branch of the Islamic State group appears to be the most resilient outside Syria and Iraq, where the so-called caliphate is witnessing its demise. The group’s offshoot in Libya has been uprooted in months-long battles in the central city of Sirte while its branch in Yemen has failed to seize territories or compete with its al-Qaeda rivals.

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