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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Egypt holds funerals for soldiers killed by ISIL

At least 21 dead after dozens of militants attacked a remote outpost in the Sinai Peninsula on Friday

Egyptians carry the coffin of a soldier who was killed a day earlier in the restive Sinai Peninsula in an attack by ISIL, during a funeral ceremony in the 10th of Ramadan city, about 60km north of Cairo, on July 8, 2017. Mahmoud Bakkar / AFP
Egyptians carry the coffin of a soldier who was killed a day earlier in the restive Sinai Peninsula in an attack by ISIL, during a funeral ceremony in the 10th of Ramadan city, about 60km north of Cairo, on July 8, 2017. Mahmoud Bakkar / AFP

CAIRO // Egypt held funerals on Saturday for at least 21 soldiers killed in an attack by ISIL in the restive Sinai Peninsula, officials said.

The attack on Friday was one the deadliest against the military in an extremist insurgency that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in the past four years.

Police and provincial officials said 21 bodies had arrived in the mainland for funerals in 11 provinces.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack late on Friday, saying it was carried out as the Egyptian army was preparing an assault on its positions in Sinai.

The attack began in the early morning, when a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at a remote military compound in the village of El Barth, south-west of the border town of Rafah.

Dozens of masked militants then descended on the site in 24 Land Cruisers and opened fire on the soldiers with machine guns, according to security officials.

The shooting lasted nearly half an hour, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because of regulations. The troops at the compound were estimated to have numbered about 60.

The suicide blast at the start of the attack apparently disabled the checkpoint's military communications system, as one of the officers used his phone to record a message for help and send it to a colleague via WhatsApp. The audio message was later widely circulated on social media.

"This might be the last seconds in my life," a man says calmly. "Quickly, oh men, anyone who knows how to reach the command center, notify them to use artillery as we are still alive."

He then praises God and ends by saying "we will either avenge them or die," referring to his fallen colleagues.

The security officials initially put the death toll at 10 but said later that more bodies were pulled from the rubble of a building that was used as a rest house for troops.

Egyptian army spokesman Tamer El Rifai confirmed the attack on his official Facebook page, saying that 26 army personnel were killed or wounded. He did not provide a breakdown.

He said the army foiled attacks that targeted a number of other checkpoints in the Rafah area on Friday and that 40 militants were killed. Sinai residents said they saw Apache helicopters carrying out air strikes across Rafah after the attack. On his page, Mr El Rifai posted photographs of slain militants dressed in military uniforms, typically worn by ISIL extremists.

Groups other than IS have also carried out attacks targeting policemen and judges. A newly emerged militant group called Hasam claimed responsibility for the killing of a homeland security officer outside his home in Qalubiya, a province just north of Cairo, while on his way to prayers on Friday.

Egypt's state news agency Mena reported on Saturday that security forces killed two men in an exchange of gunfire in Giza.

A security official told Mena that the men, who were in a flat, were fugitive terrorists. The report did not say when the shooting took place.

Egypt's state newspaper Al Ahram said the two men were members of Hasam.