At Least Twenty Three Egyptian Soldiers Killed

From The-Guardian:
Militants killed at least 23 soldiers and injured dozens more in a car explosion and gun attack on an Egyptian military checkpoint in the north-eastern Sinai peninsula, officials have said.

Among those killed in the attack on Friday – the deadliest on the country’s military this year – were five officers, including a high-ranking special forces colonel, Ahmed el-Mansi, according to security officials.

The assault started when an attacker rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at a military compound in the village of el-Barth, south-west of the border town of Rafah. This was followed by heavy gunfire from dozens of masked militants on foot, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

As the attack unfolded, ambulances were heard rushing to the site. The officials initially put the death toll at 10 but later said more bodies were pulled from under the rubble of a nearby rest house for troops that was destroyed in the attack.

The militants arrived at the checkpoint, which is in a remote desert area, in 24 SUVs, and shot at the soldiers with machine guns for nearly half an hour, the officials said. There were thought to be about 60 soldiers at the compound.

After the attack, the militants looted the checkpoint, taking away weapons and ammunition before fleeing the scene. It was unclear if they also took armoured vehicles.

The area surrounding the compound is considered to be an Islamic State stronghold and was the site of fierce battles in the spring between tribesmen and militants. The officials said some senior officers criticised the location of the checkpoint, arguing that it provided no real cover.

Earlier, an Egyptian army spokesman, Tamer el-Rifai, confirmed the attack on Facebook.

He said the army foiled attacks targeting a number of other checkpoints in the Rafah area and that 40 militants were killed. Witnesses said they saw Apache helicopters carrying out airstrikes across Rafah after the attack. On his page, al-Rifai posted photographs of allegedly slain militants dressed in military uniforms.

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No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Egypt has been battling a stepped-up insurgency in northern Sinai in recent years, mainly by militants affiliated to Isis.

Though they have not seized territory in Sinai, they have a strong presence in the western and southern area of Rafah, on the outskirts of the town of Sheikh Zuweid, and inside the residential area of Sinai’s largest city, el-Arish.

Over the past months, Isis has focused its assaults on Egypt’s Christian minority and killed dozens in at least four attacks, prompting Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the president, to declare a state of emergency. However, the restive northern Sinai has been under a state of emergency since October 2014 after Islamist militants killed more than 30 soldiers in a single attack.

In January, eight policemen were killed in el-Arish in a car explosion.

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