Continuing the trend of an increasing militant presence to the west of North Sinai’s capital city, unidentified armed men set up a temporary roadblock on the Arish-Qantara International Road in the early hours of Sunday, stopping vehicles and checking people’s identification, according to eyewitnesses.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they told Mada Masr that at around 2 am, heavily armed men riding in a 4×4 vehicle, a private car and on motorbikes blocked the road completely near the village of Mazar in western Arish.
They seized one van and forced the driver and one passenger out, according to eyewitnesses, and told them to stay away from the area.
The individuals raised a black flag. However, it remains unclear who is responsible for the makeshift checkpoint. The Province of Sinai or Jund al-Islam, the North Sinai affiliates of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda respectively, are active militant groups in the area.
The temporary blocking of roads to stop vehicles and check people’s identification is a tactic favored by the Province of Sinai, whose presence has been increasingly felt to the west of Arish in recent months. According to eyewitnesses, the uptick in activity has been concentrated on the area between the villages of Midan and Rawda despite the ongoing military campaign in the governorate.
The Armed Forces announced the launch of Operation Sinai 2018, the large scale military campaign that has been touted as “eradicating terrorism” in the peninsula in February.
In June, Province of Sinai militants killed three Armed Forces personnel at a similar temporary checkpoint to the west of Arish where they were stopping and checking vehicles.
Another militant attack on security personnel took place on August 25, also on the Arish-Qantara International Road, when unidentified assailants launched an armed attack on a police checkpoint, killing four police personnel and injuring 10 others.