Suspected Islamic militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula attacked an army checkpoint on Friday, killing 12 soldiers and wounding eight, according to security and medical officials. The officials said the attack took place about 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of the Suez Canal, near the town of Bir el-Abd, where the wounded were taken for treatment before they were ferried to the city of el-Arish to the east.
A military statement confirmed the death toll, but said six troops were wounded. The military said 15 of the attackers, who arrived at the checkpoint in all-terrain vehicles, were killed and an undetermined number of others were wounded in an ensuring gunbattle. According to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, the militants opened fire on the checkpoint with light arms and heavy machine guns. The officials had no information on casualties among the militants.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack though it bore the hallmarks of the local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group, which is based in Sinai. Calling itself the “Emirate of Sinai,” the group is leading the insurgency in the strategic region bordering Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Friday’s attack is the latest in what appears to be a surge in the number of operations launched by the militants as well as a wave of IS kidnappings and subsequent killings of Sinai’s local residents suspected of collaborating with security forces battling the militants.
However, there has been a dramatic fall in recent months in the number of attacks on mainland Egypt that have been claimed by the IS. A previously unheard of group, “Hasm,” or “Decisiveness,” seems to have taken the lead in those attacks. It claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination in recent weeks in Cairo of a top prosecutor and a former mufti, or chief theologian.
Egypt has battled militants in Sinai for years, but the insurgency has grown deadlier since the 2013 ouster by the military of an elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi. Authorities have placed tight restrictions on travel to Sinai, denying access by independent and foreign media to the vast and arid region. The government also routinely claims the death of dozens of militants every month, and occasionally announces that troops are close to defeating the insurgency.