CAIRO: A wave of attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula claimed by the Islamic State group killed at least 15 soldiers Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as troops fought a running battle with militants.
The terrorists launched simultaneous attacks against military checkpoints in the region, one with a powerful car bomb, the authorities said. "It's war. The battle is ongoing," a senior military official told AFP.
Other security and medical officials said ambulances could not get to the scene of the attacks because of heavy fighting in which the military brought in Apache helicopters.
"Ambulances are waiting in front of the hospital. They can't leave. People are bring in the casualties," a health official told AFP. At least 15 soldiers have been confirmed dead, they said.
Troops regularly come under attack in the Sinai, where militants linked to the Islamic State group are waging a bloody insurgency.
Security officials said the attacks took place in Sheikh Zuweid, east of the provincial capital El-Arish where a car bomb, mortar shells, and rocket propelled grenades were used.
A security official said the militants had mined the exits from the Sheikh Zuweid police station to block reinforcements.
In a statement released online, IS said it carried out the multi-pronged assault. "In a blessed raid enabled by God, the lions of the caliphate have simultaneously attacked more than 15 checkpoints belonging to the apostate army," the group said.
It said the attacks involved three suicide bombers. It came two days after the country's state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was killed in a Cairo bombing targeting his convoy.
Barakat was the most senior government official killed since militants launched an insurgency following the military's overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The authorities designated Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist group" in December 2013 as part of a crackdown on the opposition that has left hundreds of his supporters dead and thousands in jail.
Courts have sentenced hundreds to death, including Morsi himself, who was convicted of involvement in attacks on police stations. Morsi's sentence is being appealed.
The government often blames his group for attacks, but the deadliest have been claimed by the IS affiliate in Sinai.
Wednesday's attack was similar to a series of ambushes on April 2 in which dozens of militants attacked several checkpoints, killing 15 soldiers. The militants kidnapped a soldier and later executed him, and made off with military weapons.
In January, a combined rocket and car bomb attack on a military base, a nearby police headquarters and a residential complex for army and police officers killed at least 24 people, most of them soldiers.
The attacks have come despite stringent security measures imposed by the army in the Sinai, including a night-time curfew and the creation of a buffer zone along the Gaza border to prevent militants infiltrating from the Palestinian territory.
The dominant militant group in the Sinai, previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem in English, pledged allegiance to the IS group in Iraq and Syria last November.
The group is believed to be led by a mysterious Egyptian cleric, Abu Osama al-Masry, and has recruited at least one former special forces officer who had left the military. The militants have mostly focused their attacks on soldiers and police, killing hundreds since Morsi's overthrow.
They previously said they avoided targeting civilians but claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a tourist coach in February 2014 that killed three South Koreans and their driver.
Police foiled an attack at a pharaonic temple crowded with tourists in Luxor earlier this month. On Tuesday, gunmen shot dead a policeman outside a small museum south of Cairo, and three suspected militants died in an accidental car explosion in the capital, police said.