At least 11 members of the Egyptian military, including an officer, have been killed in an armed attack on the Sinai Peninsula, an army spokesman has said, adding that the security forces “foiled a terrorist attack” on a water-lifting station east of the Suez Canal.
Five security personnel were also injured in the attack. “The terrorist elements are being chased and besieged in one of the isolated areas in Sinai,” the spokesman added in a statement on Saturday.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi mourned the death of the troops, vowing in a Facebook post to continue fighting the rebels and “uprooting terrorism.”
The military gave no further details or the attack’s precise location, but two northern Sinai residents told Associated Press the attack took place in the town of Qantara in the province of Ismailia, which stretches eastwards from the Suez Canal.
No group claimed responsibility for Saturday’s ambush, one of the deadliest attacks against Egyptian security forces in recent years.
Last week, suspected fighters blew up a natural gas pipeline in northern Sinai’s town of Bir al-Abd, causing a fire but no casualties.
Egypt has been battling armed groups loyal to ISIL (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula which intensified after the military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi – the country’s first democratically-elected president – in 2012.
The primary focus of armed attacks
In August, the army said 13 fighters had been killed and nine of its soldiers were “killed or wounded” during clashes in Sinai, without indicating when the fighting had taken place.
In recent years, pipelines carrying Egyptian oil and gas to neighbouring Israel and Jordan have been the primary focus of armed attacks.
In November, Egypt agreed with Israel to boost its troop numbers around the border town of Rafah in order to quell armed groups.
The pace of armed attacks in Sinai and elsewhere has slowed to a trickle since February 2018, when the military launched a huge operation in the region as well as parts of the Nile Delta and deserts along the country’s western border with Libya.
More than 1,000 suspected fighters and dozens of security personnel have been killed since the start of operations, according to official figures.
The fight against armed groups in Sinai has largely taken place hidden from the public eye, with journalists, non-residents and outside observers barred from the area.
The conflict has also been kept at a distance from tourist resorts at the southern end of the peninsula.