Islamic State claims attack on Egyptian police checkpoint, killing at least 8

By SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN | The Washington Post | Published: June 5, 2019

CAIRO — Islamic State militants killed at least eight policemen after attacking a checkpoint in Egypt's volatile northern Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The assault was the latest sign that the Islamic State's Egypt affiliate continues to pose a threat to Egypt's security forces despite a highly touted and intense campaign by the military since early 2018 that has, for the most part, managed to stop large-scale attacks by Islamic militants.

The violence Wednesday came in the early morning hours near the northern Sinai city of El Arish as Muslims were holding prayers to usher in the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

According to the Interior Ministry statement, two police officers and six conscripts were killed in the attack, while other media reports, citing unnamed officials, said there were 10 police fatalities. The Islamic State's Amaq news agency said the group was responsible for the assault.

After the attack, Egyptian security forces pursued the militants, killing at least five, the Interior Ministry said.

The Egyptian military has banned journalists from entering the northern Sinai, making it impossible to independently verify government issued statements.

The attack came two weeks after Egyptian security forces killed 16 suspected militants in the same area and found weapons and explosives that the Interior Ministry said was to be used in "terrorist attacks" in El Arish.

The Islamic Statehas killed hundreds Egyptian soldiers since the group's affiliate, Wilayat Sinai, launched operations in November 2014. The insurgency in the northern Sinai gained momentum and fresh recruits after the current President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi led a military coup in 2013 to oust the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.

The militants have particularly targeted Coptic Christians, who make up roughly 10 percent of the country's 94 million people, and tourists. In 2015, the Islamic State affiliate took responsibility for downing a Russian passenger plane after it took off from the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. That attack, which killed all 224 people aboard, shattered Egypt's tourism-driven economy, which still hasn't fully recovered.

Last year's military operation against the Islamic militants began less than three months after Islamic State militants were widely believed to have killed more than 350 people at a mosque in the northern Sinai.

Last week, Human Rights Watch alleged that Egypt's security forces were carrying out extrajudicial killings, making arbitrary arrests, carrying out torture and other abuses against civilians in northern Sinai. In its report, the group alleged that some of the abuses amounted to war crimes.

Egypt's government publicly said that the report was "full of lies."

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