Attack on Egyptian military checkpoint kills dozens

Attack on Egyptian military checkpoint kills dozens

Attack on Egyptian military checkpoint kills dozens

Death toll expected to rise after incident in northern Sinai peninsula, where jihadi fighters have waged an insurgency
An Egyptian tank behind barbed wire. The attack is the single largest strike on security forces since Mohamed Morsi was ousted. Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP

Egypt’s army suffered one of its biggest losses in recent years when militants killed at least 26 people at a military checkpoint in the northern Sinai peninsula, where jihadi fighters have waged an insurgency since the summer of 2013.

Unofficial accounts of the attack on Friday differed, with one linking it to a car bomb and another to a mortar strike.

Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, announced an impromptu meeting of the country’s national defence council, but there was no official explanation of what happened.

The attack occurred in Sheikh Zuweid, a few kilometres from Gaza, and is the single-largest strike on Egyptian security forces since the army ousted the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, last July. The death toll is higher than the 25 police conscripts shot in cold-blood in Sinai last August, and is expected to rise further, with 28 more people critically injured, the health ministry said.

The attack follows militant strikes on Israeli soldiers near a more southerly point on the Egyptian border on Wednesday.

Jihadist extremists have carried out strikes in Sinai for over a decade, but their attacks increased significantly following Morsi’s overthrow.

Hundreds of soldiers and policemen have been killed in the violence, and in response the state has bombed several villages in the region where they believe the insurgents to be hiding. Critics claim the government’s campaign stokes the tensions further, as it often does not discriminate between insurgents and residents.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood denies it is linked to the violence. The largest jihadist group in Sinai is Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), which loosely means Champions of Jerusalem. ABM has been given advice over the internet by commanders in Islamic State (Isis), but the two groups do not have formal ties, an Egyptian-born Isis fighter has previously told the Guardian.

“Isis has advised ABM on bomb-making, shooting down jets, how to make themselves more popular with locals, and social programs,” said the fighter.

President Sisi says Egypt cannot give material help to America’s anti-Isis coalition while it is fighting its own battle with extremists, and has used the spike in terrorism to justify a crackdown on political opposition.