Wilayat Sinai, the Islamic State’s affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula, on Monday claimed responsibility for an attack on a police convoy on the Qantara-Arish Road in the Taloul area of North Sinai (about 20 miles west of Arish) that killed 18 police personnel and wounded seven. (One source in Sinai put fatalities at 19 and injuries at 20.)
A number of militants reportedly initiated the attack with a series of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that destroyed three armored vehicles, first blowing up a vehicle carrying signal jamming equipment. The militants then opened fire on policemen and stole at least one of their trucks. Another team of militants prevented first responders from reaching the wounded. Two lieutenants were among the dead, and a brigadier general, who survived, lost his leg. Security forces opened fire on the militants, reportedly killing several of them. A statement released by the Egyptian Ministry of Interior said that “some” of the individuals in the convoy were killed and others injured. The Egyptian Air Force was reportedly sweeping the area shortly after the attack.
The United States Department of State condemned the attack on the same day, expressing condolences and stating, “We will continue to stand with Egypt as it confronts the threat from terrorism.”
Since the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi in July 2013, nearly a thousand security personnel have been killed in more than 1,700 terror attacks across Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, with more than 200 security personnel killed this year alone. Wilayat Sinai—the most active terror group in Egypt—has claimed more than 800 attacks across the country since it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in November 2014.
The attacks continue despite Egyptian security forces’ efforts to eradicate terrorism in the province. According to numbers compiled from official statements from the Ministries of Interior and Defense, Egyptian security forces have killed more than 2,500 terror suspects in counter-terror operations in Sinai since 2013, with significantly higher unofficial numbers reported by the media.
Most recently, on September 10, police forces carried out security raids on two residences in the Ard al-Lewa area of Giza, near Agouza. The raids targeted alleged militants from North Sinai province. During the first raid, gunmen reportedly opened fire on approaching security personnel and then attempted to use an explosive against them. It exploded early and killed eight of the suspects. Two other suspects were killed in the second raid after they opened fire on approaching police, initiating a four-hour shootout. Nine police personnel were injured.
While the conflict in the province continues, the social situation in North Sinai has become increasingly difficult. As TIMEP’s research director recently noted: “The Egyptian government has effectively cut off communication, imposing long curfews and blocking chat and VOIP applications as far west as Bir al-Abd. Any entry to Arish or east requires proof of residency there. News reporting is under de facto prohibition, journalists face harassment or imprisonment, and international business and nongovernmental organizations are discouraged from operation by harsh legal restrictions.”
For more details on trends and developments in Egypt’s security situation, our Egypt Security Watch project provides regular reports on terror attacks, counter-terror efforts, and the legal and political context in which these occur. (Our latest ESW quarterly report covered the period from January to March 2017.)
Despite the Egyptian government’s continued efforts at eradicating terrorism in North Sinai, the persistence of attacks like that in the Taloul area shows that the current approach has yet to see success. A matter of concern is that the current counter-terror strategy has too often relied on “slash and burn” tactics and repressive policies that have been regularly reported to infringe on human rights and livelihoods. Independent observers have noted a marked rise in the number of questionable counter-terror operations, including documented examples of extrajudicial killings and violations of due process rights.
In order to achieve long-term security and stability in North Sinai, to avoid loss of life among security forces and civilians, and to avoid potential spillover of violence in the mainland, the Egyptian government and security apparatus must conduct targeted operations in line with modern counterinsurgency doctrine. While military action may be necessary to address the threat, and while perpetrators must be brought to justice, these actions should occur with appropriate use of force and be combined with efforts to strengthen rule of law, institutional and economic development, and respect for human rights.