A suicide bomb attack at an army checkpoint in a remote part of Sinai has left at least 23 Egyptian soldiers dead and dozens more injured, security sources confirm.
The attack, which took place on Friday morning, began when militants in roughly 24 SUVs arrived at the compound, at least one of which was a suicide car bomb that drove into the military compound. After the detonation, heavy gunfire started by dozens of masked militants and continued for almost a half hour. While army spokesperson Tamer el-Rifai confirmed that 26 army personnel had been killed or injured, he also said the army had stopped attacks on other checkpoints in the region and that 40 militants had been killed. The attack took place in a small village south of Rafah, which lies on the border of Egypt and the Gaza strip. Ambulances quickly rushed to the scene, and the initial death toll was estimated to be around ten soldiers. However, in the aftermath of the fight, that number grew. Among those killed were five officers and a high-ranking special forces colonel, Ahmed el-Mansi. Before retreating, militants apparently looted the checkpoint and stole both weapons and ammunition. Though many were killed, even more were able to escape, now with further instruments of violence.
The area has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, when Islamic State militants killed more than 30 soldiers in a single attack. Friday’s attack is the deadliest on the country’s military this year. Many hours after the attack, the Islamic State issued a claim of responsibility for the attack, saying the attack was in response to the military’s plans of an assault of IS positions in the region. This attack further indicates that the Sinai-based militants are among the most resilient of terror groups, after ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and stresses the need for Egypt to defeat the insurgency as soon as possible.
The Sinai Peninsula is no stranger to conflict. The northern part of the peninsula—where this assault took place—is thought to be an ISIS stronghold. Though it hasn’t been able to seize any territory, the terror group maintains a fierce presence in the area. In 2017 the Islamic State has concentrated their attacks on the Christian minority living in the area; since December, there have been four attacks against the minority claimed by ISIS, in which dozens have been killed. After the attacks president Sisi declared a state of emergency for the country, which seems to be little solace to the victims of these attacks. In September of 2015, the Egyptian military launched a small-scale military operation to fight the insurgency. The effort has been largely viewed as unsuccessful, with the Egyptian army often exaggerating the number of militants killed. What they under-exaggerate, however, is the toll the war has had on civilians. While Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, claims troops in the area are to “act like a surgeon who uses his scalpel to extract the tumor without harming the rest of the body,” local residents have witnessed something very different: houses have been demolished, civilians tortured and killed, and entire communities razed to the ground for no reason. Caught in the crossfire, hundreds of Bedouin tribespeople have been forced to flee to neighboring Gaza, which offers little solace. Those unable or unwilling to flee face an uncertain future, having to fear both the insurgents and their country’s military, which has its own share of human rights abuses in the region.
Though State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has said the United States “strongly condemns” the Sinai attack and will continue “to stand with Egypt as it confronts terrorism,” America has been accused of standing idly by, and thus implicitly supporting, an government and army with a record of countless human rights abuses. The international community needs to recognize the shortcomings of their fight against terrorism in the region, and rethink their strategy for success. If they don’t, civilians will continue to suffer in the hands of both the military and the insurgents.
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