Egypt foiled extremist ‘state’ in Sinai, president says
CAIRO (AP) — President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, wearing battle dress for the first time in over a year, said Saturday that Egypt had foiled an attempt by the Islamic State group to seize territory and set up an extremist state with its recent assault on the military in the troubled northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula.
In combat fatigues he had said he hung up for good when he ran for president, the general-turned-politician met members of the army and delivered a televised speech to troops in Sinai, his first public comments on Wednesday’s unprecedented attack.
The group had tried to announce “an Islamic state, in their concept, an Islamic State in Sinai,” he said. “These are the messages, very simply, that they are putting out to us,” adding that the area was now under control.
El-Sissi praised the troops for “foiling a very big plan.”
“No one can impose on the Egyptians something they don’t want,” he said. “To reach the Egyptians they have to pass through the army, the sons of Egypt.”
The army said 17 soldiers and over 100 militants were killed in Wednesday’s brazen attack in Sinai, although before the release of its official statement, several senior security officials from multiple branches of Egypt’s forces in the area had said that scores more troops also died in the fighting.
The assault, which was claimed by an Islamic State group affiliate, lasted a whole day and was unprecedented in its size and coordination. The attack hit a string of army checkpoints and involved multiple suicide bombings and the siege of a main police station with heavy weapons.
It came in a week of bloodletting that saw Egypt’s prosecutor general assassinated outside his Cairo home by a massive car bomb, and a special forces raid on an apartment that killed nine members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood responded by calling for a “rebellion,” raising the prospect of a further uptick in violence.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry blamed all the past week’s violence on the Brotherhood, which it said was not only the main source of Islamic extremism, but also coordinated operations on the ground.
“All of these attacks were conducted days apart, and showed a level of sophistication and coordination that affirms the presence of organized terrorist activity perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood,” it said in a statement given to reporters on Saturday.
Egypt routinely blames the Muslim Brotherhood for violent attacks in the country.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the timing of the recent attacks make the associations between the Brotherhood and IS extremists “apparent.”
“This is a matter of motives... I, as I think any Egyptian on the street, will make the educated presumption that this was perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Many of the (online) sites of Muslim Brotherhood rejoiced at the fact,” he said.
In Sinai, violence continued Saturday. A bomb exploded next to a power station in Sheikh Zuweid, killing two workers and injuring another, security officials said.
And in Rafah, a city on the border with the Gaza Strip, they said a roadside bomb exploded near a civilian home Saturday, killing a child and wounding four others. They spoke anonymously because regulations did not permit them to release the information otherwise.
Also Saturday, the Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai said it had fired three Grad rockets at Israel a day earlier.
In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the group which calls itself the IS group’s Sinai Province said it fired the rockets because Israel was supporting the Egyptian regime. It also claimed Israeli aircraft had joined Egyptian warplanes in bombing its fighters.
Israel’s military said the rocket was fired into southern Israel on Friday afternoon, hitting an open field but causing no damage or injuries. Egyptian military and security officials in Sinai have denied any rockets were fired from the restive peninsula.
In combat operations late Friday, the Egyptian army said Apache attack helicopters fired missiles at groups of extremists, killing 10 of them.
Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef and Merrit Kennedy in Cairo contributed to this report.