At least 26 Egyptian soldiers including a colonel were killed in a suicide bomb attack on an army checkpoint in northern Sinai, according to security sources.
Another 40 fighters were killed in a subsequent gun battle with soldiers at the checkpoint, an army spokesperson said on Friday.
Expert discusses Egypt’s military operation in Sinai
The attack started when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into the checkpoint at a military compound in the southern Rafah village of el-Barth, followed by heavy gunfire from dozens of masked fighters on foot, officials said.
The dead included a high-ranking special forces officer, Colonel Ahmed el-Mansi, and at least 26 soldiers were wounded in the attack.
Sirens of ambulances were heard from a distance as they rushed to the site of the attack.
The officials spoke to AP news agency on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak to the media.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Bologna, Spain, Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said there was a high likelihood that the attack would be claimed by Wilayat Sinai, a group affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.
The group frequently targets military and police personnel, he said, adding that Friday’s attack was “unfortunately a very predictable type of attack and something we’ve seen regularly”.
Over the past months, ISIL has focused its attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority and carried out at least four deadly attacks that killed dozens, prompting army chief-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to declare a state of emergency in the country.
The Sinai branch of ISIL appears to be the most resilient outside Syria and Iraq, where the so-called caliphate is witnessing its demise.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies