By Jay Deshmukh, Abdelhalim Abdallah, AFP
CAIRO – Militants fired a barrage of rockets and set off a car bomb Thursday killing at least 26 people, mostly soldiers, in Egypt’s North Sinai province, where security forces are battling a raging Islamist insurgency. The deadly assaults were swiftly claimed by the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group that has captured chunks of territory in Syria and Iraq. Jihadists have regularly attacked security forces in the Sinai Peninsula since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in July 2013. They say this is in retaliation for a bloody government crackdown against Morsi supporters that has left hundreds dead, thousands jailed and dozens sentenced to death after speedy trials that the United Nations says are “unprecedented in recent history”. The main focus of Thursday’s attacks was El-Arish, the provincial capital, where a military base, a police headquarters, a residential complex for army and police officers and several army checkpoints were targeted in the biggest such simultaneous assaults since October, officials said. Twenty-five people, mostly soldiers, were killed when several rockets and a suicide car bomber struck the targets within minutes. “Terrorist elements have attacked several police and army headquarters and facilities using explosive-laden vehicles and rockets,” the military said in a statement, adding there was an exchange of fire between troops and militants. The Islamic State group’s Egyptian affiliate, Ansar Beit al-Maqids, claimed the assaults in a Twitter account linked to it. Egypt’s deadliest jihadist group said it “executed extensive, simultaneous attacks in the cities of El-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah” in North Sinai.
Security officials said militants first fired rockets at the El-Arish police headquarters, the military base and the housing complex, which was followed quickly by a suicide car bombing targeting the rear gate of the military base.