Not less than 18 Egyptian policemen were killed and three reportedly wounded last Monday during an ISIS attack on a security convoy in the Sinai Peninsula, which is gripped by an insurgency.
Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted by its news agency Amaq.
Security and medical sources said the attack took place near Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, and two of those killed were officers. A brigadier general lost a leg in the blast.
Militants detonated an improvised explosive device and managed to destroy three armored vehicles and a signal-jamming vehicle. The attack later turned into a gunfight and the militants also shot at ambulance workers, injuring four.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, issued a statement confirming the incident, but its account provided no details on casualty figures or how many vehicles were destroyed.
It said police traveling in the convoy fired at a car that rushed toward them, causing it to blow up and damage several of the convoy’s vehicles. That was followed by an exchange of gunfire with “terrorist elements” hiding in the desert on both sides of the road, it said.
“That led to the martyrdom and wounding of some of the convoy’s personnel,” the statement cryptically added.
“Reinforcements were swiftly sent, the site has been sealed off and combing operations are underway,” it said.
Egypt’s Cabinet issued a statement in response to the attack, reiterating the country’s resolve to stamp out terrorism and hunt down militants. Again, the statement provided no casualty figures or details of the attack.
The U.N. Security Council, which currently includes Egypt as a member, condemned “the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack.” It underlined the need to bring the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors “of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice.”
The U.S. State Department also condemned the attack. Spokesperson Heather Nauert said the U.S. would “continue to stand with Egypt as it confronts the threat from terrorism.”
In a wider context, the militants have been seeking to demoralize troops using snipers, killing at least 14 policemen and soldiers in recent weeks.
They have also been increasingly using brutal methods to discourage civilians from cooperating with security forces, kidnapping alleged collaborators and later dumping their decapitated bodies on the streets to terrorize the population.
Monday’s attack was the deadliest for security forces since July, when IS militants attacked a remote army outpost in the border town of Rafah, killing 23 soldiers. That was the deadliest attack in two years.
In March, the military said militants killed 10 soldiers during an army raid in Sinai’s central region.