Suspected Islamic State gunmen killed 12 members of Egypt’s security forces in North Sinai province and injured eight more in an attack on a checkpoint on Friday, medical and security sources told Reuters.
The attack took place 40 km away from the town of Bir al-Abd, making it the first major attack in the central Sinai area, which had so far escaped a campaign of Islamist attacks. It was carried out using assault rifles and some heavier weapons, the sources said. The wounded were taken to hospital in al-Arish.
It was not clear if the dead and injured belonged to the military, the police, or a joint force. Official military and police spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment.
An Islamist insurgency in the rugged and thinly populated Sinai Peninsula gained pace after the Egyptian military overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement, in mid-2013 following mass protests against his rule.
The militant group staging the insurgency pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014 and changed its name from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis to Sinai Province. It is blamed for the killing of hundreds of soldiers and policemen, and has started to target Western targets within Egypt.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former military chief who led the overthrow of Mursi, describes Islamist militancy as an existential threat to Egypt, an ally of the United States. Islamic State controls large parts of Iraq and Syria and has a strong presence in Libya, which borders Egypt.