Middle East

Egypt: 29 killed as Sinai attacks target security forces


A suspected jihadist car bomb has killed at least 26 Egyptian soldiers at a checkpoint in Sinai, officials say.

The attack took place near El Arish, the main town in the north of the restive peninsula. Three more died in a shooting in the town itself.

The bomb blast is one of the deadliest attacks in Sinai for months. At least 28 more people were injured.

The army has been fighting a campaign against Sinai-based militants, who have carried out a string of attacks there.

The area has become increasingly lawless since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011.

Militants further stepped up their attacks after Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the army last year.

Security forces have been carrying out an offensive in northern Sinai, killing and capturing dozens of suspected members of jihadist groups.

Many of the casualties from the bomb blast were ferried to Cairo by helicopter.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The army in the north of Sinai is confronting militants angered by the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi

Sources told the Reuters news agency that the bomb attack targeted two armoured vehicles which stopped at a checkpoint near an army installation.

Analysis: Orla Guerin, BBC News, Cairo

Once again militants have inflicted heavy losses on the army in Sinai. The increasingly lawless - and strategically important - peninsula is a battle ground between the security forces and the militants.

Their attacks have spiralled since the army ousted the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. A large-scale army offensive in Sinai has been unable to contain the violence, which has spread to other parts of Egypt including the capital and the Nile Delta.

Sinai is fertile ground for militant groups - thanks to poverty, official neglect, and discontent among the local Bedouin tribes.

The biggest threat so far is from the insurgents of Ansar Beit al Maqdis, (Champions of Jerusalem) Egypt's deadliest militant group. Like the so-called Islamic State, Ansar has taken to carrying out beheadings on camera.

One Ansar commander has said the Islamic state is advising it on how to operate more effectively.

But security officials gave differing accounts. One said a rocket-propelled grenade hit a truck carrying ammunition, which then exploded.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi convened the National Defence Council for an emergency meeting in response to what his office called "a terrorist attack".

The second attack hit a checkpoint in El Arish. Three soldiers were shot dead, security sources said.

Islamic State

No group has said they carried out the attacks.

In September at least 11 policemen were killed in a bomb attack on a convoy in the peninsula as it travelled through the village of Wefaq, near the Gaza border.

That bombing was claimed by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the most active militant group in Egypt. It attempted to kill the interior minister in Cairo in 2013 in a car bomb attack and has issued videos of the beheading of captives.

The group professes backing for Islamic State (IS) group jihadists in Iraq and Syria, although it has not formally pledged its support.

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