At least three Armed Forces officers were killed on Sunday in central Sinai, as the Egyptian military carried out raids following the kidnapping of several military-contracted civilians by militants.
The officers were killed in the Maghara district of central Sinai’s Hassana area, where local sources tell Mada Masr that civilians transporting steel to a military site near Hassana were kidnapped on Saturday. In response to the kidnappings, the military reportedly conducted raids on Sunday.
While it is not clear whether the deaths of the three officers occurred in the scope of these raids, the information that has emerged — a combination of local media reports, security sources’ comments to Mada Masr, and a Tuesday Province of Sinai statement — paints a picture of a group of officers from the Maghara checkpoint suffering casualties after coming into contact with Province of Sinai militants on Sunday.
There has yet to be an official comment from the Armed Forces spokesperson.
Events began to unfold on Saturday, when three civilians working with the military were kidnapped in Hassana, a local source told Mada Masr. While two of the civilians were released within hours, the third person remains missing.
According to the local source, the contractors were traveling along the Maghara road in a truck transporting steel to a military site near Hassana when they were forced to stop because a dust storm had blocked a portion of the road, prompting the truck driver to call to request a loader to remove the sand.
When the loader arrived, a group of unknown gunmen appeared and kidnapped the two drivers and an engineer, and seized both the loader and the truck, the source stated. The two drivers were later released, while the engineer is still being held hostage by the militants.
In response to the kidnappings, the Armed Forces conducted raids in Hassana, backed by cover provided by Egypt’s Air Force, Russia Today reported, citing a security source.
As the raids played out in the area, a Maghara checkpoint force came under attack, according to a security source who spoke to Mada Masr. While the Armed Forces killed two militants, the attack resulted in the death of an Armed Forces officer and two conscripts, as well at the injury of three other conscripts, the source added.
In an earlier account of the incident, a second security source told Mada Masr that Major Amr Farid Abdel Zaher, a military officer from Aswan, and Sergeant Sherif Ghanem, a military conscript from Beheira, were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated during a raid on a suspected militant hideout in central Sinai.
Funerals were held for Ghanem and Abdel Zaher on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, according to local media, while a third funeral was held for military conscript Mohamed Gamal Refaat Hussein from Sharqiya on Monday.
The Amaq News Agency, the Province of Sinai’s military arm, published a statement on Monday alleging that Province of Sinai militants lured a military force and attacked it in Maghara on Sunday. The statement did not clarify the number of the deaths in the attack, but stated that there had been a total of 20 military personnel casualties and that several military vehicles had also been destroyed.
The latest attack plays out against a wider background of militant and Armed Forces exchanges in the Sinai peninsula, where Egypt’s military has been carrying out a large-scale operation since February to “eradicate terrorist elements.”
On December 12, in the military’s 30th communique on Operation Sinai 2018, the Armed Forces spokesperson stated that Egypt’s Air Force destroyed a four wheel-drive vehicle, a vehicle carrying a number of terrorists, as well as a storage facility for ammunition used by militants.
The communique added that the raids led to clashes in which 24 militants were killed, 403 “criminals and suspects” were arrested, 344 explosive devices were seized or destroyed, and 342 militant hideouts were identified.
The Saturday kidnappings are only the most recent event in which civilians have been caught in the crosshairs of the conflict in North Sinai.
On Saturday, the Province of Sinai released a video in which two people are shown to be killed after confessing that they are a part of pro-military militias in the Barth area of the city of Rafah.
One of the individuals in the video, identified as Palestinian Mohamed Samir Amr Abu Saad from the Deir al-Balah area of Gaza, stated that he was kidnapped by the Province of Sinai as he was crossing the border into Sinai in order to join the Union of Sinai Tribes, which was formed after the Tarabin tribe — one of North Sinai’s largest tribes — issued a call on April 29 for tribal unification and coordination with the Egyptian Armed Forces to fight the Islamic State affiliate.
The other person in the video, Abdallah Othman Salem Salman, a North Sinai resident from the Agraa area in Rafah, was filmed stating that he had participated in six operations with military collaborators in North Sinai, before he was kidnapped by armed Province of Sinai militants.
In mid-November, four employees and the owner of a military-contracted construction company were kidnapped in North Sinai by unknown assailants. The employees were released several hours later, but the fate of the company owner, Mahmoud Hamdy al-Qalaagi, remains unknown.