- The new Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State has released a video to claim the 24 October attack on the Egyptian Army
- The video shows a ruthless and sustained attack that overran a mechanised detachment of at least five armoured vehicles
The severity of the insurgency facing the Egyptian military in the Sinai Peninsula has been highlighted by a video showing the attack that reportedly killed at least 30 Egyptian soldiers on 24 October.
The Egyptian authorities were vague about the incident, saying only that there had been a suicide vehicle bombing at a checkpoint near the town of Sheikh Zuwaid in North Sinai.
A high-resolution video released on 14 November by the Sinai Province of the Islamic State – a radical Sunni group that previously called itself Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – showed militants carrying out drive-by shootings, roadside bombings against armoured vehicles, executions of captives, and sabotage attacks on gas pipelines.
It also showed the large suicide vehicle bombing that began the 24 October attack, which targeted an Egyptian Army mechanised detachment that was dug in and equipped with at least two M60 tanks, two M113 armoured personnel carriers, and one YPR-765 armoured fighting vehicle.
Gunmen in at least two pickup trucks then assaulted the position to hunt down and kill the survivors of the bombing. The soldiers managed to get one of the tanks running, but chose to flee rather than fight militants armed with RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
The militants then had sufficient time to remove weapons, ammunition, and equipment from the position before the military responded. The equipment captured apparently included two 82 mm mortars, five .50 machine guns, four 7.62 mm FN MAG machine guns (two of them co-axial weapons taken from the turrets of armoured vehicles), about 20 AK rifles, and night-vision equipment.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Hani Abdel-Lattif told the state-run MENA news agency on 17 November that the attack on 24 October and another on an Egyptian Navy vessel on 12 November could only have been carried out with the support of a foreign intelligence agency.
The Egyptian Ministry of Defence released a statement on 13 November saying one of its naval vessels was attacked off the port city of Damietta at dawn on the previous day. It said the assailants were killed and the four boats they used were destroyed, but five naval personnel were wounded and another eight were missing.
While the authorities have offered no further details about the incident, the Egyptian media has reported that the vessel was lured to a group of boats by a distress call and then fired on with RPG-7s and other weapons.
The latest video is a major blow to the Egyptian military, which prefers to release as little information as possible. It shows that the army is struggling to suppress a highly motivated and ruthless jihadist insurgency more than a year after it stepped up operations in Sinai, where it needs Israeli approval to deploy forces.
The Egyptian military presence in the peninsula has reportedly grown since September 2013, when an Israeli commander revealed 10 regiments and eight AH-64D attack helicopters had been deployed to suppress the militancy that escalated in the wake of the coup in July of that year.
The military presence may be further alienating Sinai’s traditionally marginalised Bedouin population, but there are also underlying economic problems. Largely excluded from the tourism industry, the Bedouin were heavily involved in smuggling weapons, people, and other contraband into the Gaza Strip and Israel. This activity has presumably suffered in recent years as the Egyptian military has stepped up efforts to destroy the smuggling tunnels into the Palestinian territory and Israel has erected a security barrier across the remainder of the frontier.
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- Egypt crackdown angers people in Sinai border town (vindy.com)
- 5 Egyptian Security Personnel Killed in Sinai Gun Attacks (voanews.com)
- Rafah crossing with Egypt still closed: Gaza ministry (worldbulletin.net)
- President orders study for a ‘new Rafah’ (dailynewsegypt.com)
- Officials: 10 killed in exchange of fire in Sinai (dailymail.co.uk)