By Maggie Fick
Gunmen killed three policemen in Egypt’s volatile Sinai Peninsula on Monday, security sources said, and an Islamist militant group released a video of an earlier drive-by shooting of an army colonel.
Security sources confirmed that gunmen had killed the colonel, identified as Mohamed al-Komi, on Aug. 14 on a desert highway near the Suez Canal city of Ismailia.
The Sinai has become a major security headache for the Egyptian authorities since the army overthrew elected President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July.
His overthrow has plunged the most populous Arab nation into political crisis. A security crackdown on the Brotherhood has raised fears that Islamists will hit back with violence.
In the latest bloodshed, gunmen killed two policemen as they ate breakfast outside a police station in the city of El-Arish in North Sinai. In a separate attack, a police officer walking in the city was shot in the head and chest and killed.
Gunmen also killed a civilian in the nearby town of Sheikh Zuwaid.
Almost daily attacks by al Qaeda-inspired militants in the Sinai have killed more than 100 members of the security forces since Mursi’s ouster, the army spokesman said on Sept. 15.
Militant violence elsewhere in Egypt has raised concerns that an Islamist insurgency, like one that Mubarak’s government eventually crushed in the 1990s, could take hold beyond Sinai.
The Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group claimed responsibility for a failed suicide bombing in Cairo on the interior minister this month.
State neglect has long stoked resentment among the Sinai’s Bedouin population. Authorities have done little to promote economic development in the vast and lawless desert region.
Instability there worries Western governments because the peninsula borders Israel and flanks the strategic Suez Canal, the quickest sea route between Asia and Europe.
The army says the Sinai is hard to police partly because it borders the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The military says Gaza-based militants take part in attacks over the border and accuses Hamas of doing too little to stop them, allegations the Islamist group denies.
“LIQUIDATING THE APOSTATES”
Attacks in Sinai have risen sharply since Mursi’s overthrow, although militants and smugglers had already been exploiting a security vacuum left by the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Sinai militants have published online footage of some of their attacks – a common practice among al Qaeda-linked groups trying to motivate fighters and intimidate their enemies.
In a video posted on a jihadi website on Monday, a group calling itself “al-Nusra Battalion” shows what appears to be footage of security forces firing on Mursi supporters.
The video then shows what it says was the attack on Colonel Komi on Aug. 14, the day security forces crushed pro-Mursi protest camps in Cairo, killing hundreds of people.
A man with an assault rifle is filmed aiming from a car window and shooting at another vehicle driving on a desert road.
“Targeting the criminal apostates and liquidating them,” a caption reads.
A picture of the uniformed officer flashes on the screen next to the car seen in the drive-by shooting, a back window pocked with bullet holes and blood running down the driver’s door after what appears to have been a well-planned assault.
“It’s likely that they learned his daily routineby a combination of relatively good intelligence on their part and perhaps poor operational security on the part of the Egyptians,” said David Hartwell, a Middle East analyst at IHS Jane’s.
The video says al-Nusra Battalion is a unit of “al-Firqan Brigade”, a militant group that took responsibility for an attack this month on a container ship in the Suez Canal.
The army, which has been operating with the police in Sinai, said on Aug. 7 that it had killed 60 militants in the month since Mursi’s overthrow.
“There are great security successes on the ground in Sinai now,” Interior Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif said when asked about the al-Nusra Battalion video.
“We’ve arrested dangerous elements and confiscated heavy weapons, and we have a large degree of control.”