A host of militant attacks in the past two weeks have led to tighter security measures throughout Sinai, capped by the shutdown of the capital city of Arish, where security sources say fear is mounting that escalating violence may lead to a repeat of the deadly attack on the Sheikh Zuwayed marketplace on April 9, and extraordinary security measures on military construction sites in the south of the peninsula.
Mada Masr has rounded up the events that have dotted the ongoing escalation and security response over this time period.
Arish on high alert
The North Sinai capital of Arish has been on high alert since April 15, when the entire city was shut down after security forces received information about militants infiltrating the city center, a security source told Mada Masr.
The shutdown began when armored police vehicles were deployed to the Masaid neighborhood in western Arish, according to local sources who spoke to Mada Masr. The police inspected the patrons of coffee shops and eateries and then ordered all establishments to close. The police also instructed people to stay in their homes and not to assemble in large groups, local sources said. Police took up patrols on the coastal road, conducting thorough searches of all passing residents.
A security source told Mada Masr that the measures were implemented after security forces received information about militants infiltrating the city center. According to the source, security forces have been apprehensive about the possibility of the spread of the violence that shook Sheikh Zuwayed on April 9, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest in the city’s marketplace, killing three police officers, a conscript, and three civilians, including a six-year-old child, and injuring three soldiers and twenty-seven civilians.
There had been a series of smaller attacks in the west of Arish, leading up to the decision to shutdown the city, culminating in an IED attack on an armored police vehicle on the Arish-Qantara International Road near the Midan village, which left three soldiers injured.
On April 9, a police officer, a conscript, and two civilians were killed and a woman was seriously injured after two bombs exploded in military vehicles stationed beside civilian cars. On the following day, a bomb squad discovered and disarmed an IED planted near the road near leading to Rawda village, and the squad detonated it remotely.
While the city continues to be on high alert, security forces allowed businesses to re-open on April 16, but street activity remains subdued as fear continues to permeate the city.
Province of Sinai on Sheikh Zuwayed: “The city of informants and interrogators”
On April 11, the Islamic State newspaper Al-Nabaa published a picture of whom it claimed was the man responsible for the attack on the Sheikh Zuwayed marketplace, identifying him as Abo Hagar al-Masri. While the militant publication claimed that Masri was 42 years old, the statement published by the Interior Ministry at the time of the attack claimed that the attacker was a 15-year-old boy.
In a sign of the group’s disregard for civilians in the city, Al-Nabaa described the city as “full of informants, interrogators, and intelligence,” adding that the Egyptian army considers Sheikh Zuwayed a heavily fortified area, as it is a hub for security forces in the area.
Security forms for workers and a German militant in South Sinai
On April 16, the Armed Forces rounded up all civilian contractors working on military construction projects in South Sinai that have North Sinai listed as their primary place of residence on their national ID cards.
According to a construction supervisor on a site close to Ras Sidr, the military came to the site and gathered all the workers, inspected their national IDs, and then took those whose cards were issued by the North Sinai directorate to military headquarters. The source said that this happened on multiple construction sites in South Sinai, suggesting that the reason behind this procedure is likely to be the April 12 attack on the Ayoun Moussa checkpoint, which is 60 kilometers away from the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel connecting north and south Sinai.
The source added that when he tried to ask the military officer about the reason behind the procedure, the officer responded: “We want them to fill out security forms.”
In the statement it issued on April 12, the Interior Ministry stated that police had foiled the attack on the Ayoum Moussa checkpoint. Fire was exchanged, the statement read, leaving two militants killed, one of whom was wearing an explosive vest which was safely detonated.
The Province of Sinai, the Islamic State affiliate which is primary active in the north of peninsula, claimed responsibility for the attack through the militant group’s media arm Amaq News Agency, publishing photos of two alleged militants involved in the attack. The statement gave the nicknames of the two men as Abu Mohamed al-Mahager and Abu Adnan al-Ansari, choices that would suggest that Ansari is from Egypt while Mahager is not.
The Association of Sinai Tribes — which is a group of young tribesmen, most notably from the Tarabin tribe that works alongside the Armed Forces — claimed that Mahager was originally German and had come to Egypt via Russia to join the Province of Sinai, after failing to enter Iraq and Syria.
A failed militant ambush
On April 17, militants attempted to ambush a microbus transporting workers from their home village of Rawda to the Nasr Salines Company, located in the west Arish neighborhood of Sabika, according to local sources who spoke to Mada Masr.
The militants opened fire on the bus near the company, but the driver turned back to the village when he saw militants on the road and the workers were able to escape without injury, according to a source who works at the Nasr Salines Company.
Rawda was the site of a violent attack in November 2017, which targeted one of the village mosques during Friday prayers, killing 305 village residents.