CAIRO: Islamic State group militants launched an unprecedented wave of attacks on Wednesday on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least 70 people, in a major challenge to President Abdel Fattah alSisi.
F-16 warplanes bombarded the militants as they fought police and soldiers on the streets of the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid after striking military checkpoints in a surprise attack after dawn.
The violence came two days after state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated in a Cairo car bombing. He was the most senior government official killed in the insurgency.
In the capital on Wednesday, police killed senior Muslim Brotherhood member Nasser alHoufi and eight others during a raid on an apartment, security officials and a member of the movement said.
Read: In 'first', IS beheads two women in Syria: monitor
The Sinai attacks, in which car bombs were used, were the most brazen in their scope since militants launched an insurgency in 2013 following the army’s overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi. The victims included several civilians, according to security and medical officials, who said 38 militants were also killed.
“It’s war. The battle is ongoing,” a senior military official told AFP. “It’s unprecedented, in the number of terrorists involved and the type of weapons they are using.”
Militants took over rooftops and fired rocket-propelled grenades at a police station in Sheikh Zuweid after mining its exits to block reinforcements, a police colonel said.
F-16 jets struck the militants in several locations in the town, officials and a witness said.
“There are gunmen on the streets. They have planted mines everywhere,” said the witness in Sheikh Zuweid. Explosions were heard and plumes of smoke were seen over Sheikh Zuweid from the neighbouring Palestinian Gaza Strip, witnesses there said.
Read: Islamic State attack on Syria's Kobani kills 146: monitor
The Islamic State group said its militants surrounded the police station after launching attacks on 15 checkpoints and security installations using suicide car bombers and rockets.
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 bringing in the casualties,” a health official told AFP.
Troops regularly come under attack in the Sinai, where militants have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since Morsi’s overthrow.
In a statement released online, IS said the assault had involved three suicide bombers.
Sisi pledged to toughen laws and suggested fast track executions following the state prosecutor’s assassination, and a cabinet meeting on Wednesday was expected to pass the amendments. Sisi, the former army chief who toppled Morsi, won elections last year pledging to wipe out militants.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2015.
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