Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

Egyptian air force kills 20 militants after deadly suicide blast

ISIS has claimed responsibility for attacks last week that left six people dead

An Egyptian soldier stands guard outside a Catholic Church in Cairo.  AFP
An Egyptian soldier stands guard outside a Catholic Church in Cairo.  AFP

Egyptian officials say that at least 20 militants have been killed in an air strike in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula.

The air force hit more than 100 mountainous hideouts used by the militants near the city of El Arish and the small town of Bir Al Abd late of Friday.

The strikes came after a suicide bombing killed a soldier and a civilian on Thursday in the Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid. ISIS said a militant named Abu Omar El Seedy had detonated his explosive-laden vest near a military checkpoint at dawn on Thursday.

Egyptian security officials had said the bomber targeted an armoured vehicle near the local market of Sheikh Zuweid. They added that as well as the soldier and a civilian, three other soldiers were wounded.

A day earlier, militants beheaded four people and kidnapped a fifth in Bir Al Abd after accusing them of co-operating with the security services.

A group tied to ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks.

The military has been battling a bloody insurgency in the remote desert peninsular for several years but in 2018, the government announced a massive offensive aimed at destroying the extremists. The move has degraded the ability of the tribal and extremist groups to launch attacks into the rest of the country, but they still pose a deadly threat.

The militants regularly carry out hit and run attacks on security checkpoints. Due to the remote, rugged landscape, it can take too long for air support units or reinforcements to arrive. In previous attacks, entire units stationed at desert bases have been overrun.

The hardline groups have regularly targeted tourists and Christians.

ISIS has vowed to go after Egypt’s Christians, in part as punishment for the church’s support of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi who, as defence minister, led the military’s 2013 intervention to remove an Islamist president amid mass protests against his one-year divisive rule.

The attacks against Christians have led to tighter security for places of worship and church-linked facilities, like metal detectors at their street gates and armed guards.

However, Christians are not the only community to be targeted by attacks. In November 2017, 305 worshippers were murdered and another 128 wounded during Friday prayers at a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai, one of the worst terror attacks in recent Egyptian history.

The mass offensive launched last year has succeeded in denying the militants control over significant areas of territory. The army has devoted a large amount of hardware to the fight, including tanks, artillery, fighter jets and attack helicopters, alongside thousands of soldiers.

However, the potent militancy endures.

Updated: July 20, 2019 08:19 PM