Islamic State militants ambushed a police convoy in North Sinai on September 11, 2017, killing 18 policemen and wounding seven others in one of the deadliest attacks this year.
The interior ministry has released a short statement saying that "a number of policemen were killed" in a convoy attack but has not yet issued a final tally of the victims.
The prime minister's office called the attack a "traitorous incident, " and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail affirmed in a statement that "the state's determination to fight these criminal actions that target the safety and will of citizens with its full force."
The attack took place on the road coming from Bir al-Abd area towards El-Arish, about 30 kilometers west of El-Arish in North Sinai.
The terrorist group planted four explosive devices, and the terrorists remotely detonated the roadside bombs that destroyed and set ablaze three armored vehicles and a fourth one carrying signal jamming equipment. The terrorists also attacked the convoy by driving into it with a car primed to explode. The terrorists later opened fire with machine guns and commandeered a police pickup truck. The rescue operation was hindered by clashes that followed the blasts, between security forces and the terrorists which further led to the injury of paramedics.
18 policemen were killed and eight policemen and paramedics injured. Among those killed were two police lieutenants. The wounded included a police brigadier general. The injured and killed police conscripts have been transferred to El-Arish Military Hospital, where the injured personnel are currently receiving treatment.
The Security Directorate announced that police forces managed to kill three attackers before fleeing the scene.
A local ISIS-affiliated group based in North Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief item carried by its Amaq news agency. ISIS said it used a suicide car bomb in its deadly attack on the police convoy. According to the group's statement, the attack left 35 dead or wounded and identified the suicide bomber by his alias, Abu Suleiman al-Masri.
The September 11, 2017 attack came a day after Egyptian authorities said they had busted a militant cell planning attacks in Cairo. Police said they killed ten militants during the course of two simultaneous raids on apartments in a densely populated neighborhood in Cairo. Six police servicemen were wounded during the operation. They said the militants sneaked into the capital from northern Sinai but did not say whether they were members of ISIS.
International Responses to the Attack
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has strongly condemned the terrorist attack. "They [the members of the UNSC] expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Egypt, and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured,” a statement issued to the press by the 15-member body read.
In an official statement, the US embassy in Cairo expressed its deep condolences for those killed and injured by "this cowardly act of terrorism."
"The United States stands firmly with Egypt after this horrific attack. We send our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wish a speedy recovery for those injured," the statement read.
The German embassy released a statement denouncing the attack, which it described as "brutal and treacherous."
"There is nothing that justifies such terrorist acts. Germany stands along with Egypt in its efforts in combating terrorism," the statement read.
The United Kingdom also denounced the attack. "The UK condemns the terrorist attack in El-Arish. I am sure that the world will defeat such terrorism and the poisonous thoughts that supply it," UK envoy to Egypt Ambassador John Casson posted on his Twitter account hours after the attack.
Saudi Arabia condemned the terrorist attack in Sinai and expressed solidarity with Egypt in its fight against terrorism. According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), a source in the Saudi foreign ministry denounced the attack, stressing Saudi Arabia’s stance in "supporting our friend Egypt against terrorism and extremism."
Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported that Kuwait's emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jabar Al-Sabah had expressed his sincere condolences to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. "He [Sheikh Al-Sabah] expressed Kuwait's strong condemnation and denouncement of such a heinous terrorist action that targeted innocent lives and Egypt's safety and stability," KUNA reported.
The September 11, 2017 attack was the deadliest against Egyptian security forces since July 2017, when Islamic State militants attacked a remote army outpost near the border town of Rafah, killing 23 soldiers.
Egypt has battled militants in Sinai for years, but the insurgency became far more deadly after the 2013 military ouster of Mohammed Morsi, an elected Islamist president. Since 2013, state security forces, represented by both the army and police, have been engaged in violent clashes with "Sinai Province," known previously as "Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis." In 2014, the group declared its affiliation to the Islamic State and launched deadly attacks on army and police checkpoints. While based in North Sinai, the ISIS-affiliated group has carried out attacks elsewhere in Egypt, including in the capital Cairo, and killed more than 100 Coptic Christians since December 2016.
Over the course of the last two years, the Egyptian armed forces launched counter-terror operations (dubbed Martyr Rights) against militant across the Sinai Peninsula, where the group is based, particularly in North Sinai cities of Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah, and El-Arish. The last terror attack in northern Sinai showed the resilience of the militants in Sinai in the face of a years-long campaign to eradicate them by the Egyptian military and police.