Internet and telephone connections were restored in the restive North Sinai peninsula on Friday night hours after a deadly bombing at a military checkpoint killed at least 27 soldiers, the state-owned news site Ahram Gate reported.
The authorities had cut mobile and Internet networks for two hours to prevent attackers from remotely detonating any other explosives. In similar attacks over the past year, improvised bombs have often been detonated from afar through cellular phones, said Ahram Gate.
Health officials expect the death toll from the Karm al-Qawadees checkpoint bombing to continue climbing throughout the night, as at least 26 other soldiers injured in the incident are in critical condition, the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) reported.
As of early Friday evening, 14 ambulances had transported 52 soldiers and officers — both injured and deceased — out of the bomb site to nearby hospitals, health department sources told AMAY. They are continuing to search for the victims.
It is currently believed that a suicide bomber perpetrated the attack, according to unnamed security sources cited by AMAY. The remains of the assailant may be among the corpses currently being transferred away from the scene of the incident.
Just hours after the Karm al-Qawadees blast, another assault on a security checkpoint outside of Arish claimed the lives of three more security personnel. Unidentified gunmen allegedly opened fire on security forces guarding the checkpoint, killing at least three men. It has not been confirmed if the victims were soldiers or police personnel, or how this attack is connected to the earlier bombing, if at all.
Shortly after the second assault, the privately owned news network Sky News reported that the incident occurred in the Al-Taweel district, near the oft-attacked North Sinai gas pipeline that pumps fuel to Israel. However, the Armed Forces released a statement refuting that report.
Friday’s events were often mired in conflicting reports of the violence. In the early hours after the Karm al-Qawadees explosion, media outlets published several diverging accounts of how the checkpoint bombing was perpetrated.
However, by Friday evening a security source confirmed to AMAY that a suicide bomber drove a vehicle filled with homemade explosive devices into the checkpoint, which is located in the Sheikh Zuwayed area, outside of the main city of Arish.
After the initial blast, armed assailants then ambushed troupes attempting to evacuate the injured from the scene, the source said.
Shortly thereafter, the Turkish Anadalu news agency reported that three soldiers were taken hostage in the course of this attack. However, the military is still verifying this claim, according to a statement issued early in the evening by Armed Forces spokesperson, Brigadier General Mohamed Samir.
In the aftermath of the bombing, assailants then fired rockets at the checkpoint, initiating an exchange of fire between the attackers and security forces for hours after the explosion, AMAY reported.
Earlier on Friday, AMAY also wrote that two military tankers deployed to the scene of the initial explosion also came under attack as they drove over roadside bombs planted on their route to the checkpoint.
The North Sinai Health Directorate declared a state of emergency after the blast and dispatched ambulances to transfer the injured to the Arish Military Hospital and the Arish General Hospital, security sources told AMAY. The management of the Arish General Hospital issued an appeal to area residents to donate blood.
Some of the injured were also flown to Cairo for medical treatment.
Heavy gunfire was reportedly still being heard around the bomb site into the evening as ambulances transported the injured men away from the scene, according to Ahram Gate.
A nearby building collapsed due to the explosion, AMAY said. The Arish-Rafah International Road was immediately shut down following the blast, as well as all secondary roads near the scene of the explosion.
Bomb squads were deployed to search the surrounding area for other explosive devices, particularly on roads frequented by military forces.
The Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdes is currently being considered as a primary suspect in the attack, according to AMAY.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called for an emergency meeting of the Council for National Defense to discuss security in Sinai and address this “terrorist attack,” said presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef.