Militants belonging to the Islamic State-affiliate Province of Sinai have reportedly intensified their presence in Arish, setting up a number of checkpoints on the North Sinai capital’s most populated streets, eyewitnesses tell Mada Masr.
The militant checkpoints were set up on Assiut Street, where Egyptian security forces had previously been known to patrol and maintain a presence. Civilians relay that they are being stopped and subjected to inspections where they must submit identification papers.
One of the eyewitnesses that spoke to Mada Masr on the condition of anonymity says that he and his friends were stopped by masked militants on Assiut Street on March 5. “We tried to step back, but one of them ordered us to continue. After 100 meters, we found another group of masked militants who asked us about our IDs.”
“We showed them our IDs, and we were very scared. We never imagined things would turn out this way in Arish, to the extent that we see checkpoints set up by terrorists on a main downtown street like Assiut, which is surrounded by checkpoints by the police and military.”
Arish has seen attacks by militants, heavy military presence and exceptional security measures, including a curfew since 2013, but residents say that lately they are starting to feel the brunt of the ongoing war more than ever. Heba Afifiy examines the effects of the war in Sinai on Arish.
The militants at the checkpoint stated that they were “looking for Copts,” according to the eyewitness. “After 50 meters, we found more militants standing next to a cigarette kiosk and smashing it, while another was holding a laptop and checking people’s IDs. At that moment, a security vehicle arrived to the scene and exchanged fire with the terrorists.”
The Islamic State online outlet Amaq Agency published a photo depicting masked men stopping civilian cars to which it attached a caption that claims the photo is of a Province of Sinai checkpoint.
Saad Mossa, an Arish resident, asserts that life has almost stopped in the North Sinai capital.
“We are trapped. The entire city is surrounded with checkpoints and defensive sand barriers. Even our projects have been destroyed. Security forces take over people’s shops to hide in them and turn them into checkpoints. Security forces have taken over a charity hospital on Assiut Street, which was built through donations, to hide inside. Security forces are hiding among us, and they are the first to oppress the people of Arish, shoot us mistakenly and arrest our people and friends on fabricated charges,” Saad says.
“Security forces are hiding among us, and they are the first to oppress the people of Arish, shoot us mistakenly and arrest our people and friends on fabricated charges.”
Amaq Agency published a statement on Friday in which it attributed responsibility for the bombing that killed two police officers on Thursday to Islamic State militants. The agency added that the explosion left four other security personnel killed and one vehicle destroyed.
The statement came a few hours after the Interior Ministry released its own statement on Friday, in which it stated a police patrol engaged a number of militants that they had discovered planting an improvised explosive device alongside a road in Arish. After a firefight that left one militant dead, the police attempt to disarm the IED but accidentally detonated the device, killing Central Security Forces officers Lieutenant Colonel Fathy Qadry Amin and Captain Mohied al-Hawary.
The Province of Sinai also claimed responsibility for the death of Colonel Yassir al-Hadidy, who was killed on Wednesday when a bomb targeting his car exploded. Another officer and two other soldiers were injured in the blast.
Translated by Mai Shams El-Din