Islamic militants killed at least 38 soldiers at Egyptian army checkpoints in simultaneous attacks yesterday.
The attacks in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula included suicide car bombings, security and military officials said.
The co-ordinated morning assaults in Sinai came a day after Egypt’s president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, pledged to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the country’s state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated in the capital, Cairo.
The scope and intensity of the attacks underscored the resilience and advanced planning by the militants who have for years battled Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai but intensified their insurgency over the past two years just as the government threw more resources into the drawn-out fight.
An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying its fighters targeted a total of 15 army and police positions and staged three suicide bombings, two of which targeted checkpoints and one that hit an officers’ club in the nearby city of el-Arish. The authenticity of the claim could not be immediately verified but it was posted on a Facebook page associated with the group.
Except for the attack at the officers’ club, the rest took place in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and targeted at least six military checkpoints, the officials said. The militants also took soldiers captive and seized weapons and several armoured vehicles, they added.
At least 54 other soldiers were wounded, the officials said. As fighting raged, an army Apache gunship destroyed one of the armoured carriers captured by the militants as they were driving it away, the officials added.
Brigadier General Mohammed Samir said clashes were still under way in the area between the armed forces and the militants. His statement put the number of soldiers killed so far at ten, but the conflicting numbers could not be reconciled in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
Brig Gen Samir’s statement, posted on his official Facebook page, said some 70 militants attacked five checkpoints in northern Sinai and Egyptian troops killed 22 of them and destroyed three all-terrain vehicles fitted with anti-aircraft guns.
The officials said scores of militants were besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s main police station, shelling it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and exchanging fire with dozens of policemen inside.
Northern Sinai has over the past two years witnessed a series of complex and successful attacks targeting Egyptian security forces, many of which have been claimed by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group.
Two of the six checkpoints attacked yesterday were completely destroyed, officials said.
Army checkpoints in the area routinely have between 50 and 60 soldiers. The IS statement said the two checkpoints were hit by suicide bombers.