Eighteen security forces were killed and 6 others injured in an explosion targeting their convoy in North Sinai on Monday afternoon.
The convoy was passing through the Arish-Qantara International Road near the town of Toloul, west of North Sinai’s capital city Arish.
Three armored vehicles and a jamming device used to prevent the remote detonation of explosives were damaged in the attack. The militants also took possession of one of the 4×4 police vehicles in the convoy.
There were several ranking officers among the 18 security forces killed in the attack, including a captain and a first lieutenant, while the injured included a brigadier general, medical sources told Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, adding that they expect the casualty figure to rise.
The Islamic State-affiliated armed militant group Province of Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack.
Eyewitnesses who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity said that the attack took place in the Husseini area, located between Toloul and the Midan checkpoint.
The attack began when an IED exploded near the signal jammer. Four IEDs then detonated near the convoy, damaging the three armored vehicles, eyewitnesses told Mada Masr. The militants then opened fire on the convoy and entered into direct combat with the remaining security officers, before torching two of the three damaged 4x4s and driving off with the fourth vehicle after killing those inside it.
The militants erected a barricade to prevent ambulances from Arish from reaching the convoy, an employee in the ambulance authority told Mada Masr. The ambulances parked far from the location of the attack and waited until the militants left, added the employee.
The militants detonated IEDs in front of the ambulance convoy, damaging two of the vehicles and injuring several paramedics and drivers, who were subsequently transported to Arish hospital, an ambulance driver told Mada Masr. The paramedics are currently stable, according to the source.
The targeted convoy was travelling from Bir al-Abd and carrying security personnel who were returning from Eid holidays to resume their duty.
Eyewitnesses tell Mada Masr that security reinforcements arrived to the scene more than an hour after the militants had left, closing all entrances and exits to the Arish-Qantara International Road. The Midan and Harbiya checkpoints were also closed by security forces.
Later in the day, the Interior Ministry released a statement detailing the attack.
“On the morning of September 11, while a security convoy was traveling on the Arish-Qantara International Road to conduct a security sweep in the Bir al-Abd neighborhood, the forces identified a vehicle attempt to storm the convoy’s path. When the forces engaged the vehicle, it exploded, damaging several vehicles in the convoy. This was followed by a shootout with terrorists who were hiding in the desert close to the road. Several convoy personnel were martyred in the shooting and others injured,” the statement read.
“Immediately, more forces were sent for reinforcement,” the Interior Ministry stated. “A security cordon was established and the area was swept. The injured were also transported to the hospital for treatment.
The Husseini area, the site of Monday’s attack, also saw violence more than a month ago, when the Province of Sinai erected a barricade on August 9 to stop vehicles of the Nasr Salines Company, according to a worker at the company. The militants kidnapped one of the drivers and then beheaded him and another company employee whom they had kidnapped and alleged was collaborating with security forces.
Three days later, militants from the Province of Sinai intercepted people leaving the town’s mosque after Friday prayers, kidnapping three people whose situation remains unknown, according to an eyewitness from Husseini.
Monday’s attack comes a few weeks after Egyptian Armed Forces executed a military campaign in areas south of Arish city, including Zohour, Mosama, Kilo 17, Zaree al-Kheir, Deheisha and south Masaeed, where the Islamist armed militant group is active. The military subsequently established several fixed checkpoints in the area.
This attack also coincides with the visit of a Hamas delegation to Egypt, which is headed by the chief of its political bureau Ismail Haniyeh. The visit began on Saturday and is a continuation of discussions between the Gaza-based movement and the Egyptian government that resumed in January months back. They reached agreements to consolidate security along the Sinai-Gaza border, creating a 12-kilometer-long buffer zone, and Egypt submitted a request for the extradition of 17 people wanted on terrorism-related charges in Sinai.
Translated by Waad Ahmed