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IS militants besiege Sinai town, dozens of Egyptian soldiers killed

CAIRO: Militants affiliated with the Islamic State besieged a town in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday in a coordinated assault that turned the area into a war zone, caught the Egyptian authorities by surprise and underscored their inability to contain a growing insurgency.

Dozens of Egyptian soldiers were killed, police officers were trapped in their posts, ambulances were paralyzed by booby-trapped roads and residents were warned to stay indoors by jihadists roaming on motorcycles. The Egyptian Army responded with warplanes in the area around the town, Sheikh Zuwaid, 200 miles northeast of Cairo, near the Gaza Strip.

The attack was the most audacious and deadliest yet for the Egyptian militants who have affiliated with the Islamic State, the extremist group that has emerged as the most potent jihadist force convulsing the Arab world. The group has established itself in Syria, expanded into Iraq and has strong footholds in Libya.

A line of Egyptian officials, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, at the funeral of Hisham Barakat, the country’s top prosecutor, who died in a bombing Monday as he was driving to work in a convoy.

Six hours after the assault began with simultaneous attacks on more than a dozen military checkpoints, the militants still were battling for control of Sheikh Zuwaid. Warplanes roared overhead.

“No one is safe here,” Mostafa Singer, a journalist in the city, said by telephone with the sounds of the fighting in the background. “The explosions are everywhere.

The assault came 48 hours after militants assassinated Egypt’s top prosecutor, bombing his convoy on a residential street in Cairo. That attack, along with the Sinai assault, left the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi suddenly struggling to battle an expanding insurgency, fought by multiple groups, on several fronts.

The prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, was the most senior official killed since the insurgency erupted nearly two years ago, in the aftermath of the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi by Mr. Sisi, who was Egypt’s military commander at the time. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing on Monday, but analysts said it was possible that it was the work of one of a proliferation of new Islamist militant groups that have vowed to retaliate for the government’s crackdown on its opponents.