North Sinai death toll rises amid checkpoint attacks and clashes between security forces and armed militants
Courtesy: Amaq News Agency

Seven people were killed and 17 others were injured during clashes between armed militants and security forces in the North Sinai capital of Arish on Monday. The dead and injured include security personnel and civilians, and an unknown number of militant casualties.

A medical source told Mada Masr, speaking on condition of anonymity, that three police personnel, one soldier and three civilians were killed in the clashes. Two injured soldiers and 15 civilians were also reportedly transferred to Arish Public Hospital.

A security source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that a group of armed men simultaneously attacked the National Bank of Egypt in central Arish on Monday, cracking the safe open using explosives and taking the money inside. The three dead police personnel and soldier were guarding the bank, according to the source. The civilians killed in the attack include one guard, one bank client and a 15-year-old student who was passing by at the time. Another civilian guard was allegedly kidnapped by the militants.

A bank employee told Mada Masr that the salaries of a number of government employees had been deposited with the bank on Sunday, amounting to LE17 million, which was taken by the militants.

Eyewitnesses who spoke to Mada Masr said they heard live shots from different parts of the city at 8 am, which intensified over time, especially in central Arish. Trucks carrying between 12 and 15 masked armed militants, chanting “Allahu Akhbar,” were stationed close to Mar Girgis Church, behind a vacant National Bank of Egypt building in Sad Wadi al-Arish, and on 26th of July Street.

Militants later engaged in prolonged clashes with security forces at a number of checkpoints in central Arish, lasting in some areas until 9.30 am, with loud explosions heard nearby, according to eyewitnesses.

Security forces cordoned off all police and military checkpoints across the city of Arish on Monday morning, and blocked traffic on the main streets, with many people not able to access their workplaces. All shops were closed, and residents were barred from walking in 23rd of July and 26th of July streets. Teachers who live in Arish and work in Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah border cities were not permitted to go to work for the third consecutive day, as the Midan checkpoint was closed.

A number of families raised concerns about students whose schools were close to the clashes in downtown Arish, with school managers refusing to allow students to leave until security forces ensured safe passage for them at around 11 am.

Sheikh Zuwayed was also the site of intense clashes on Sunday evening, as militants attacked five military checkpoints, including Karm al-Qawadees checkpoint, leaving at least seven military personnel and 24 militants dead.

The attacks occurred simultaneously, according to a security source, who added that they were conducted with both light and heavy weaponry and car bombs.

The Islamic State-affiliated Province of Sinai claimed responsibility for these attacks through the Islamic State’s online news outlet Amaq.

Local residents of Kharouba village, the site of one of the security checkpoints that was attacked, said that last week a number of militants advised them to leave the village permanently. A teacher living in Arish and working in the village primary school told Mada Masr that teachers were asked not to come back.

Eyewitnesses said that militants established a number of checkpoints in the border city of Sheikh Zuwayed and instructed microbus drivers not to transport any women who did not wear the niqab (full face veil), threatening to take their licenses if they did not comply, and to escalate further if necessary. In February this year, a group of female teachers reported being stopped by Province of Sinai militants demanding that they wear the niqab.

This story has been updated since it was first published on Sunday night with initial details of the North Sinai checkpoint attacks.