A massive security campaign has been launched in Arish following a series of large-scale, coordinated attacks by armed militants in the heart of the city last week that terrorized residents. The heavy deployment brings the security presence in Arish back to levels not seen since the height of Operation Sinai 2018, which was launched in February 2018. (There has been no official announcement marking the end of the campaign.)
On Thursday, the Armed Forces and police cordoned off Arish’s fourth district, which includes the neighborhoods of al-Shorbagy, al-Safa, and al-Salayma. Residents also said the area from the western edge of the Arish Valley through the city’s cemeteries in the south has been encircled by security forces, as well as Rifai Square. Security initially banned all pedestrians from entering the square, and then partially reopened it Thursday afternoon.
Local residents said that officers ordered people living in the cordoned-off neighborhoods to return to their houses before 10 pm, three hours before the start of the official curfew in Arish. Security forces are also conducting house searches in the area and collecting residents’ information. The targeted neighborhoods underwent similar measures twice in the past, at the height of Operation Sinai 2018.
The renewed security campaigns came two days after armed militants launched a series of coordinated assaults on three checkpoints in residential areas in southwest Arish. The Province of Sinai, the Islamic State affiliate in the peninsula, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Seven police officers under the authority of the Interior Ministry were killed, according to a security source who spoke to Mada Masr. It marked the first large-scale attack in a residential area there since October 2017, when militants targeted the city’s National Bank of Egypt branch.
Province of Sinai announces execution of three hostages
Meanwhile, the Province of Sinai announced on Sunday that it executed three people it had previously abducted, referring to them as “Egyptian army spies.” The announcement by the Amaq News Agency, the group’s media arm, came amid reports circulating in the area that four decapitated bodies had recently been discovered in the Maghara area of central Sinai. Security sources denied receiving any reports of decapitated corpses.
While Amaq did not identify the victims, the announcement comes in the wake of a spate of kidnappings in northern Sinai. Gunmen recently kidnapped Ahiyat tribal elder Mohammed Abuqardoud and his son from their farm in the village of Bir al-Abd, according to a social media post from MP Saad al-Awaydiah. In a separate incident, gunmen recently abducted several members of the Sawarka tribe at roving checkpoints on the international road outside the village of al-Rawda. The Province of Sinai claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in its weekly Al-Nabaa magazine, describing those detained as “suspected agents of the security forces…among them two lawyers.” The lawyers, Mahmoud Said Lotfi and Kamal Mohamed Awad, will stand trial in front of the Province of Sinai Court for enforcing a “blasphemous constitution instead of the noble Sharia law.”
Mass power outage in central Sinai after electrical tower bombed
Cities and towns across central Sinai suffered a mass power outage after an electrical tower connected to the main power station that services the central region was destroyed in an explosion on Saturday morning.
According to a source who works in the electricity sector in North Sinai, the attack targeted a tower that connects the power station in Bir al-Abd to the power station in the village of Baghdad, leading to electricity outages in the cities of al-Hasna and Nakhl, as well as smaller villages in central Sinai. The source said that repairs will take about a month to complete.
The power outage forced two cement factories, including one owned by the Armed Forces in Arish, to halt operations. Work was also stopped in the industrial zone in the village of Baghdad.
The source pointed out that the incident is identical to a previous attack in September 2018, when explosions downed three high-voltage transmission towers to the west of Arish causing a week-long power outage for the approximately 350,000 people in North Sinai’s three biggest cities. The surrounding villages had no electricity for a total of 15 days. The power outages forced local residents to use kerosene lamps, and inflicted particularly heavy losses on food traders and those who own supermarkets and stores with frozen food. On the same day that the electricity grid went down, an explosion struck water lines leading to Arish’s main reservoir in Qantara. The city’s residents faced multiple water outages, and because of the power cut, wells they’d previously dug for drinking water had also stopped working.
Five soldiers injured in roadside bomb targeting armored vehicle
Also on Saturday, five policemen were injured after an explosive device struck an armored police vehicle traveling east of Arish on the Sheikh Zuwayed-Arish road. A medical source said the injured were taken to Arish’s military hospital for treatment.
The attack is the first of its kind in the area since the military installed a number of security checkpoints on the road, leading to a marked decrease in attacks on armored vehicles.
Armed robbery in Rawda post office
On Monday, armed assailants robbed a post office in Rawda, according to local sources. The assailants pulled up in a truck around noon and stormed into the post office, the sources said. The gunmen forced all the employees into a room and seized all the money in the facility before speeding away. Post office employees told local sources the assailants made off with at least LE 100,000.
No one has claimed responsibility for the incident, but all indications point to the Province of Sinai, who have stepped up attacks in the area in the past few weeks and whose members have recently been spotted in the vicinity.
Rawda is the site of the deadliest militant attack in Egypt’s history. In November 2017, militants opened fire on a mosque in the village during Friday prayers, killing over 300 people and injuring 128 others. No one has claimed responsibility for the massacre but the Province of Sinai is the only militant group operating in the area who did not condemn it, and the attack bears many of the hallmarks of the group.
The robbery of Rawda’s post office on Monday comes less than two years after a large-scale attack on the National Bank of Egypt branch in Arish in October 2017 by approximately 30 militants, who made off with LE 17 million. Similarly, no one claimed responsibility for that attack.
Despite surge in attacks, North Sinai governor to announce Sinai free of terrorism
Despite the uptick in militant attacks over the past few weeks, the governor of North Sinai, Mohamed Abdel Fadeel Shousha, said he will soon be able to announce that Sinai is a terrorism-free zone. Shousha made the comments in an interview on June 30 on the North Sinai Broadcasting station, claiming that the “June 30 revolution saved Egypt and put the country on the right track.”
Shousha said that security forces are closing in on militant groups in the area to completely wipe them out. He added that under President Sisi there has been unprecedented economic development in the area.