Egypt hits Sinai targets, killing 16 jihadists and arresting dozens
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Egypt hits Sinai targets, killing 16 jihadists and arresting dozens

Military says it has destroyed 66 sites in major crackdown on Islamist insurgency in war-rattled peninsula

Illustrative: A picture taken on November 28, 2017, from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing following an explosion close to the border on the Egyptian side of the divided city. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Illustrative: A picture taken on November 28, 2017, from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing following an explosion close to the border on the Egyptian side of the divided city. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Egypt’s military has destroyed dozens of targets, killed 16 fighters and detained over 30 suspects as part of its latest operation against Islamic jihadists in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, the army said on Sunday.

Army spokesman Col. Tamer el-Rifai said that airstrikes hit vehicles, weapons caches, communications centers and illegal opium fields in the sweep, which began on Friday and comes as a response to a pickup in extremist violence in Egypt.

“The air force targeted and destroyed 66 targets used by terrorist elements to hide from air and artillery attacks” during raids by security forces, he said in a statement.

The operation, which targets “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations,” involves land, naval and air forces from the army and police, and covers north and central Sinai, the Nile Delta and the Western Desert along the porous border with Libya.

The offensive comes ahead of a March vote that will undoubtedly see President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi win a second four-year term, after all serious opponents have been sidelined or driven out of the race.

Sissi, who has waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt, claims he is the only one who can restore Egypt’s security, and ordered the Sinai operation after militants struck.

The Rawda mosque, roughly 40 kilometers (nearly 25 miles) west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, after a gun and bombing attack, November 25, 2017.(AFP)

In November, jihadists killed 311 worshipers in a mosque attack in north Sinai, the deadliest such killing in Egypt’s modern history, prompting Sissi to give security forces a three-month deadline to restore order using “all brute force” required.

But the terrorists launched another brazen attack in December, firing a missile at a helicopter that was part of the entourage of Egypt’s defense and interior ministers, who were in the provincial capital el-Arish on an unannounced visit. Neither minister was in the aircraft when the attack took place but the missile killed an officer and wounded two others.

Jihadist insurgency has long been a problem in Sinai, but it spiked dramatically after Sissi led the military’s 2013 overthrow of elected but divisive Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Violence has been concentrated in north Sinai, but has also spread to the mainland.

Meanwhile, two terror groups that have carried out previous attacks on security forces, denounced the new operation in statements posted online.

The group known as Hasm urged Egyptians to unite against the “traitorous regime” which was “digging its own grave” by “declaring open war on Sinai.”

Another group, called Liwaa el-Thawra, said the offensive, involving tens of thousands of troops, was a sign the government was losing control of Sinai, where it vowed to continue it struggle.

Authorities believe both groups, which have been designated as terrorist organizations by Egypt and the United States, to be splinter groups of Morsi’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

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