Egypt’s Armed Forces said on Wednesday that counterterrorism forces killed eight militants suspected of taking part in a deadly attack on a military checkpoint last week in North Sinai.
Armed Forces spokesperson Tamer al-Rifai issued a statement on Wednesday announcing that military forces also destroyed seven terrorist hideouts with weapons stockpiles in the operation. A video released by the spokesperson showed footage of rumbling tanks and armored vehicles, as well as attack helicopters launching airstrikes.
Meanwhile, local sources tell Mada Masr that military personnel at the Raysa military checkpoint in the North Sinai capital of Arish blocked all vehicles from passing toward the Rafah border crossing and the city of Sheikh Zuwayed, which prevented teachers working in Sheikh Zuwayed from reaching schools in the city.
The operation came hours after clashes broke out late Tuesday between militants and the Armed Forces around a security checkpoint on the western side of Arish. A security source tells Mada Masr that no casualties were reported in the shootout.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday that police forces targeted two different militant cells in Arish and killed 16 militants.
The series of escalations by Egypt’s Armed Forces comes days after a brazen attack by militants on the Gouda 3 checkpoint in Arish left 15 soldiers dead. The military death toll is the highest since the Armed Forces launched a major counterterrorism operation last year dubbed “Operation Sinai 2018.”
A military source with knowledge of the investigation tells Mada Masr the attack began on 5 am on Saturday when a “massive explosion” rocked the checkpoint — which is located in the south of Arish by the Safa neighborhood — followed by a barrage of gunfire and and anti-tank missiles.
All of the Armed Forces personnel inside the checkpoint, including the commanding officer, were either killed or injured in the ensuing raid, the source adds.
The militants then broke into weapons storages and seized medium and light arms before departing in six vehicles and several motorcycles.
The attack, which has since been claimed by the Islamic State-affiliated Province of Sinai, is the first to target a police or military base near Arish since the launch of Operation Sinai 2018 last February. While there has been relative calm in Arish, the military source says there have been concerns among officers managing checkpoints in North Sinai about shortages in armaments and fortification.
According to the military source, citizens transported wounded military personnel in private vehicles to the hospital, while ambulances arrived at the site of the attack about half an hour after the attack.
The first casualty count in the attack emerged midday on Saturday, when the Armed Forces spokesperson issued a statement saying that the military had suffered 15 casualties in the attack. The statement did not differentiate between those killed and injured or specify the ranks and names of the 15 casualties. It did say, however, that the casualties included one officer and 14 other military personnel.
Later on Saturday, a source at the Arish Military Hospital told Mada Masr that the bodies of 15 military personnel killed in the attack had been transferred to the hospital, and preparations were made to transport the dead to their home governorates. The hospital also treated five soldiers for injuries sustained in the attack, according to the source.
A document obtained by Mada Masr and dated February 16 corroborates this figure, listing the names of one officer and 14 conscripts serving in the Second Field Army who were killed in the attack.
Photos published online on Tuesday, reportedly by the Province of Sinai militant group, appeared to show images of the attack with explosions and fires raging, militants converging on the site, destroyed tanks and armored vehicles and a large cache of seized weapons and ammunition.
The military source says that rapid intervention forces and warplanes arrived three hours after the attack, while a comprehensive internet shutdown was enforced on the majority of Arish in an attempt to interrupt communication between the attackers. Other security forces closed off the road leading to the site of the attack and began conducting a search for the perpetrators, the source adds.
In the days that followed, multiple local sources tell Mada Masr that warplanes flew constantly over Arish and Sheikh Zuwayed at low altitudes.
In Sheikh Zuwayed, the sounds of “loud and violent” explosions were also reported by sources, who speculate that these could indicate the bombing of targets in the southern parts of the city.