The militant group Islamic State claimed responsibility late Friday night for the attack launched earlier in the day on a checkpoint near the North Sinai city of Rafah, in which at least 23 Egyptian soldiers were killed.
The early Friday attack on the checkpoint, which featured the detonation of two car bombs, involved a number of 4×4 vehicles carrying dozens of militants, reported the privately owned Masrawy news website, citing anonymous security sources.
The Armed Forces spokesperson issued a statement earlier on Friday, stating that 23 soldiers had been injured or killed in the attack and that the military carried out an operation in response, in which security forces killed 40 militants. The Defense Ministry later published video of an airstrike conducted south of Rafah.
However, the Islamic State statement asserts that over 60 Armed Forces members were injured or killed in the Friday attack.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail condemned the attack on the Armed Forces in Rafah and asserted that the world has to unite in the face of terrorism, and dry up their sources of funding.
The United States state department issued a press release after the Sinai attack, stating that “The United States strongly condemns today’s attacks in the Sinai that resulted in the deaths of at least twenty-three Egyptian soldiers.” The Embassy in Cairo tweeted: “Another outrageous terror attack in Egypt. The United States stands with Egypt against terrorism. #USSupportForEgypt.”
The UK also issued a statement condemning the Sinai attack. “The United Kingdom will continue to stand with Egypt in the battle against terrorism and the extremism that feeds it. These inhuman attacks, whether in Egypt or in England, only strengthen our determination to defeat the terrorist killers,” said John Casson, the UK ambassador in Cairo.
“The Ministry praised the Egyptian Armed Forces for thwarting the terrorist attack, by destroying several vehicles and killing the militants who attacked the checkpoint,” read the UAE Foreign Ministry statement.
“This cowardly terrorist attack is not only aimed at Egypt’s security and stability, but at the Arab nation as a whole, aiming to push the region into a vicious circle of violence, murder and terrorism as part of a wider plan to divide the region and extract its wealth,” said Fawzy Barhoum, a Hamas spokesperson.
Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry also simultaneously condemned the attack on a police patrol in Al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia. “An official source at the ministry said in a statement that Kuwait stands side by side with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and supports all measures they are taking in order to uphold their security and stability. The source reiterated Kuwait’s firm position based on rejecting violence and terrorism, emphasizing that concerted international efforts should be exerted in order to fight terrorism that targets humanity and world security and stability,” stated the Kuwaiti official news agency KUNA.
Kuwait has been a mediator in the gulf crisis that erupted when Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing the gulf state of funding and supporting terrorism. But Doha has rejected the four states’ demands, prompting the US to express concern that the conflict would reach an impasse. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to visit Kuwait on Monday upon an invitation from Kuwaiti Emir Jaber al-Sabah, in order “to discuss ongoing efforts to resolve the Gulf dispute.”
North Sinai has seen an increase in militant attacks since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, many of which have been carried out by the Islamic State and Province of Sinai.
Since then, the largest-scale attack took place in mid-2015, when the Islamic State-affiliate militant group Province of Sinai targeted several military sites and checkpoints in the North Sinai cities of Sheikh Zuwayed and Rafah. At the time, at least 17 soldiers and an estimated 100 militants were killed in the attacks and ensuing violence according to the military, while other sources claimed a much higher death toll.
In a statement published on Tuesday, militant group and Islamic State-affiliate Province of Sinai claimed responsibility for three attacks against Egyptian police and Armed Forces personnel and their “collaborators.”
It was unclear when these attacks were carried out.