North Sinai Bombing Kills 18 Egypt Security Personnel

  • Attack is among the deadliest against forces in a year
  • Deaths spotlight challenges confronting government in Sinai

A girl walks down a street in the city of El-Arish, the capital of Egypt's North Sinai region.

Photographer: Ed Giles/Getty Images

At least 18 Egyptian security personnel were killed in North Sinai when their convoy was ambushed by suspected Islamic State militants, in one of the deadliest attacks on police in the restive area this year.

The force had been en route to the town of El-Arish when an explosives-laden vehicle tried to cut it off, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The car blew up as the sides exchanged fire, the ministry said. Five other members of the security detachment and four ambulance service personnel were wounded, the state-run Al-Ahram reported Tuesday. The emergency service workers were injured when the gunmen attempted to prevent them from responding to the scene.

The Al Jazeera news channel reported that the Islamic State’s local affiliate claimed responsibility.

The attack illustrates how difficult it is for the government to crush a militant campaign that has withstood a four-year crackdown. While assaults by Islamic State loyalists in Sinai aren’t seen as threatening government stability, they’ve hurt vital parts of the economy. The most devastating was the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai in November 2015 that killed all 224 people on board. Russia banned flights to Egypt in response.

The Sinai -- a triangular piece of land bordering southern Israel and the Gaza Strip -- has emerged as the main battleground in the faceoff between Islamist militants and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. The violence surged after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013, which was followed by a crackdown on the main Muslim Brotherhood group that has killed hundreds and led to the jailing of thousands more.

The attack came shortly before El-Sisi met with the head of the U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel. At that meeting, the Egyptian president reviewed his country’s counter-terrorism efforts, which aim to uproot “this menace and confronting the threats it poses to Egypt, the region and the entire world,” the presidency said in an emailed statement.

On Sunday, police said they stormed a militant hideout in a Greater Cairo district, killing 10 suspected militants and seizing a cache of weapons.

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