An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai said Thursday that it has destroyed an Egyptian navy vessel with a rocket off the strategic peninsula’s Mediterranean coast.
The claim of responsibility by the Sinai Province of the Islamic State, as the group calls itself, was made in a brief statement posted on Twitter accounts known to be linked to the group.
The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified, but it was accompanied by photos purporting to show what appears to be a rocket flying toward the vessel, a large explosion engulfing most of the boat and then black smoke rising up from the vessel.
Egypt’s military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir, said in a statement earlier that the vessel caught fire in an exchange of gunshots on Thursday with “terrorists” on the shore.
The patrol boat had spotted militants on the coast of Rafah and engaged them, the military’s spokesman said in a statement. The boat went up in flames during an ensuing firefight.
The military said it suffered no casualties.
An AFP photographer and a witness in the Gaza Strip, just across the border, said the boat was struck at least two miles (three kilometers) from shore.
“We were sitting on the beach, and suddenly there was an explosion,” said Ahmed Nofal.
Other navy boats came to rescue the crew as their vessel spewed a plume of smoke.
Jihadists loyal to Islamic State have killed scores of soldiers and policemen in the peninsula since the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
It was not immediately clear how the boat was hit Thursday, but militants have started to deploy wire-guided missiles against tanks and armored vehicles.
The militants have also carried out attacks west of the Suez Canal, which separates the Sinai from the rest of Egypt.
The army said on Wednesday its troops foiled a suicide car bomb attack on a military post between Cairo and Suez that was claimed by the IS’s affiliate in Egypt.