source: At least 26 killed in Egypt as militants attack army and police targets in Sinai | World news | The GuardianEgyptian security forces suffered one of the bloodiest days in their peacetime history yesterday, with at least 26 people reported to have been killed in a series of attacks on soldiers and police in north-east Sinai, where the government has struggled to contain an 18-month insurgency by militants linked to Islamic State (Isis).
Isis’s affiliate in the region, Province of Sinai, claimed responsibility for the killings, after issuing warnings on jihadist forums earlier in the day that an attack was in the offing. The affiliate, known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis until its declaration of allegiance to Isis in November, recently released pictures of its masked gunmen training in the desert.
The Egyptian army said militants had attacked army and police bases in Arish, the region’s capital, with car bombs and mortar attacks, and that hostilities were ongoing as midnight approached.
According to private Egyptian media, the attacks centred on an army barracks, an army-owned hotel, and a police headquarters, though the army did not confirm the details. Earlier in the day, the army allegedly suffered casualties after being caught between two militant lines.
News agencies said that at least 26 people had died, most of them soldiers, but the health ministry’s spokesman told the Guardian that the death toll was still being counted.
The military presented the attacks as the by-product of a successful counter-insurgency campaign, claiming that they were “a result of successful strikes from armed forces and police on the terrorists in the last period”.
But Thursday’s attack showed that in reality the army is struggling to contain an insurgency in the region, despite a series of anti-terror measures, including placing the region under a state of emergency, establishing a curfew, restricting traffic in and out, and demolishing hundreds of homes in the border town of Rafah.
The assault follows another heavy attack on an army checkpoint last November, when a similar number of soldiers died. That raid was considered almost unprecedented in the context of peacetime assaults on the Egyptian military.
The insurgency has not spread to the tourist hubs of south Sinai, but in pockets of north-east Sinai the army has been powerless to stop militants from frequently establishing their own checkpoints, through which the jihadis have kidnapped and assassinated policemen.
The destruction of parts of Rafah, which straddles the border with Gaza, began after the military claimed that smugglers’ tunnels to the Palestinian enclave were allowing militants to take refuge across the border. Soldiers are in the process of destroying all homes within one kilometre of Gaza.
Critics of the project say the policy has failed to stop the insurgency and risks making neutral locals more likely to support or join the insurgents. “Any country has the right to secure its borders,” one local told the Guardian at the time. “[But] if I just take security measures, it will come back to haunt me.”
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Many Egyptians are unsympathetic to such concerns: fears of instability and terrorism have led many to support the government’s heavy-handed approach, both in Rafah and in the rest of country.
North-east Sinai has been the site of extremist attacks for several years, but the violence rose markedly following the ousting of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. His Islamist administration had persuaded militants to adopt a quietist approach.
Not all the insurgents are believed to be from the region, but they have sought to appeal to local anger in the north of the peninsula, where the mainly Bedouin population has complained of neglect by Cairo authorities and where few have benefited from the famed tourist resorts in the more peaceful south.
Egypts been rather quiet over the last few months. I was beginning to think they may have actually found a bit of stability after all that has occurred over the last 4 years or so. Hopefully this doesn't reflect a problem as Egypt is one of the most heavily visited places in the Muslim world.