IS militants besiege Sinai town, dozens of Egyptian soldiers killed
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