Egypt’s interior ministry said that six soldiers and two police officers were killed and five militants also died in an attack in the northeastern region on June 5, 2019, as the country marked the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
One of the terrorists was wearing an explosive belt but security forces killed him before he could detonate the device. Two other militants hijacked two armored vehicles belonging to the security forces and a military plane destroyed one armored vehicle and security forces killed the other terrorist in a shootout.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack on the terrorist group’s propaganda wing, AMAQ: “Islamic State fighters this morning launched two simultaneous attacks on two police checkpoints in the city of El-Arish.” It claimed that ten policemen were killed in the two attacks; one at a checkpoint south of El-Arish and another at a checkpoint in a “nearby area.” The statement said that the twin operations were designed to divide the attention of security forces and give militants enough time to pull back before reinforcements arrived.
The last major ISIS attack took place in North Sinai on February 16, 2019, in which one officer and 14 non-commissioned soldiers were killed or wounded. Security forces responded to the attack and killed seven terrorists. The attack could have been timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the launch of Comprehensive Operation Sinai (COS 2018).
The Response of the Egyptian Security Forces
Egyptian security forces have killed 14 suspected militants on June 6, 2019, during a raid carried out in North Sinai in response to the deadly checkpoint attack; some other suspected militants fled the scene. They also found 14 guns, three explosive devices and two explosive belts in their possession.
Next day, on June 7, 2019, interior ministry forces killed eight terrorists involved in the attack. A ministry statement said security forces had seized five automatic rifles, two explosive belts, and one IED, following a fierce shootout with the terrorists, at a hideout in an olive farm, south of the city of El-Arish.
On June 8, 2019, Egypt said security forces had killed four militants in a shootout with police south of the city of El-Arish. It said the police seized automatic rifles, bombs, and explosive belts.
The “Ansar al-Bait al-Maqdis” (Supporters of Jerusalem) was the largest and most prominent terrorist group operating in Sinai and beyond. The group had operated under this name until November 2014, when it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and changed its name to Sinai Province. Since then, the group carried out many of the deadly attacks in Egypt. The attacks in Sinai mostly aimed at security forces and members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.
Hundreds of police officers and soldiers have been killed in attacks which surged after the army’s ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. In late 2017, North Sinai was the scene of the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history when ISIS militants killed more than 300 worshippers at al-Rawda mosque in Bir al-Abd.
On February 9, 2018, Egyptian armed forces launched the Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018, to target terrorist and criminal elements and organizations in north and central Sinai, parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert. Operation Sinai 2018 involves ground, naval and air forces, as well as police and border guards.
The operation came two and a half months after President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi appointed Lt. Gen. Mohamed Farid Hegazi as army chief-of-staff and issued instructions to eliminate terrorist organizations in Sinai within three months. Hegazi’s appointment was made three days after an attack on al-Rawda mosque.
Operation Sinai 2018 is a major component of Egypt’s counter-terror strategy and it will have a significant long-term impact on the terror threat in the country.
Around 665 insurgents have been killed since the start of the operation, while the army has lost some 50 soldiers. But, despite the significant achievements of the operation, after more than a year, Wilayat Sinai (ISIS Sinai Province) is weaker but still very much a force to be reckoned with and the Egyptian security forces will have to prolong the operation for a lengthy period.
[Sources: Arab news, Ahram online, Asharq Al Awsat, Al Arabiya]