Update: Province of Sinai claims Thursday’s deadly checkpoint attacks

The Province of Sinai militant group has claimed responsibility for the security checkpoint attacks that killed at least 17 people in  Sheikh Zuwayed and Arish on Thursday, the  state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported.

The group announced on an affiliated Twitter account on Friday that it used RPGs and other weapons in seven attacks on security checkpoints along the coastal road between Rafah and Arish.

Formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdes, the insurgents changed their name after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in November. The group has claimed responsibility for several major attacks against police and military personnel in Sinai and Cairo since 2013.

On Thursday afternoon, military spokesperson Mohamed Samir said operations were ongoing in Rafah in response to the attacks.

Reports on the attacks gave conflicting numbers as they emerged throughout the course of the day. The privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that attacks on five checkpoints in Sheikh Zuwayed killed 15 military personnel and two civilians.

A medical source told the newspaper that the military casualties were transported to the Armed Forces hospital in Arish, while injured civilians were taken to Arish General Hospital.

Eyewitnesses stated that 20 unidentified assailants in four vehicles attacked the Qabr Emeir and Obeidat checkpoints on the Arish-Rafah International Road. The attackers reportedly used a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher and missile launchers, and the exchange of fire lasted for 20 minutes, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Both checkpoints were reportedly built less than two weeks ago for added security on the International Road.

Security forces closed the road following the attacks and patrolled the area. Al-Ahram reported that clashes between security forces and the attackers continued into early Thursday afternoon. 

Military air raids targeting Sheikh Zuwayed were carried out following the morning’s attacks, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm. Later in the day, Samir wrote on the military’s official Facebook page that clashes in Arish and Sheikh Zuwayed left 15 “terrorists” and five Armed Forces personnel dead, and injured several others.

This is the largest attack on security forces in Sinai since at least 29 people were killed — including 13 civilians — and 46 were injured in a series of successive attacks in Arish in January, when a number of bombs were detonated during curfew as people were watching a football match between Ahly and Zamalek.

North Sinai has been under curfew since October 25, 2014, after attacks on military checkpoints killed more than 30 security personnel at the Karm al-Qawadees checkpoint. The curfew has since been extended twice amid ongoing security concerns and is set to expire on April 25.

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