Islamic State claims 'worst ever' attack in Egypt's Sinai

Islamic State claims 'worst ever' attack in Egypt's Sinai
At least 80 people were killed when several army positions in Sinai came under coordinated attacks claimed by IS Wednesday, as Egypt marks the anniversary of President Sisi's coup.
3 min read
01 July, 2015
Sinai attacks come two days after the assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor (Getty)

At least 80 people were killed when militants staged simultaneous attacks, including a suicide car bombing, on army checkpoints in northern Sinai on Wednesday.

In a statement later on Wednesday, IS-affiliated Welayat Sinaa claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that its militants targeted 15 military checkpoints in Shiekh Zweid. The statement describes the attack as "heroic", as militants engage in on-going fighting with the Egyptian Army. 

An analyst says the coordinated assault is "by far the worst we've ever seen" in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and resembled Islamic State group attacks in Syria and Iraq aimed at seizing territory. 

Daniel Nisman, CEO for the Levantine Group risk consultancy, says the attack Wednesday revealed the weaknesses of the military's "scorched earth" operations against militants in the restive northern Sinai, which he says have made it difficult to recruit locals to help battle the extremists. 

He also says the military, particularly special forces units, are "very, very overstretched," pointing to militant videos that show fighters with a local Islamic State affiliate patrolling in broad daylight. 

Eyewitnesses told Al-Araby al-Jadeed's reporter in Egypt that there is on-going clashes around Sheikh Zweid Police Station and other points near Rafah, North Sinai. Militants attacked the station with RPGs and other heavy arms.

An eyewitness has told the BBC that militants appear to have taken control of Sheikh Zweid & ambulances cannot get into the town.

Deputy of Ministry of Health in North Sinai, Dr. Tarek Khater, announced that the total death toll of civilians and soldiers reached 42, with 36 others injured. 

However, a medical source has told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the number of casualties was likely to be around 80.   

Government officials say Wednesday's attack is the largest attack to be carried out since the announcement of "Sinai emirate" by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, an extremist group linked to the Islamic State (IS). 

Egyptian officials also confirmed that the attackers are holding several soldiers captive, and that they have seized several armoured vehicles.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. A formal Egyptian government statement is yet to be issued.

Sources told Al-Jazeera that fighters took over two tanks at one of the checkpoints.

Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper was reporting that that fighters were on top of buildings, electricity had been cut and ambulances were unable to reach the injured.

The attacks come just two days after the assassination in Cairo of the country's top prosecutor. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi vowed on Tuesday to step up a two-year crackdown on militants.

Today's attacks mark the second anniversary of Sisi's coup. Since then, militants in northern Sinai have stepped up their attacks.

While previous attack were mostly suicide attacks, militants this time have engaged in open confrontation with the Egyptian army. Clashes are on-going in Sheikh Zweid and other points in North Sinai.

In the meantime, Israel has closed down its Rafah border crossings with Egypt.