UPDATE 5:50 p.m. EST: A Twitter account linked to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks at around 5:30 p.m. EST. The group has previously posted videos online of the attacks, but a video has not yet been released of Thursday's attacks. The claim was reported by SITE monitoring service.
UPDATE 4:20 p.m. EST: The Associated Press reported that the death toll has risen to 26. The toll is expected to rise as some people are likely trapped under collapsed buildings hit by mortar fire. A dozen checkpoints were hit as part of the attack. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis attacked checkpoints in Oct. 2014, killing 30 soldiers. Thursday's attack is said to be the most elaborate and coordinated attack carried out in Sinai in recent years.
Militants killed 20 and wounded dozens in simultaneous attacks on 12 military and police targets in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Thursday, according to the Associated Press. Militants used mortar fire and rockets in the attacks and set off one car bomb. Targets included an army base, a police club and a hotel.
The death toll is expected to rise, as many of the wounded were hurt in a large car bomb attack in the North Sinai provincial capital Al-Arish and are in critical condition. An office of the government-run newspaper al-Ahram across the street from the police station and hotel targeted in Al-Arish was “completely destroyed,” according to Reuters. Egyptian media has not made it clear how many of the dead are civilians or military personnel. At least one Egyptian Army major was killed.
The militants attacked targets in two other towns in the region, all within 30 miles of the Gazan border.
â€” Conflict News (@rConflictNews) January 29, 2015
No group had claimed responsibility for the attack as of 3:45 p.m. EST, but the Islamic State group-affiliated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is based in Sinai and has launched similar attacks in recent years in the area. ABM pledged allegiance to the group’s self-declared caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in November.
The peninsula, which borders Israel and Gaza and connects Africa with the Middle East region, has been a breeding ground for militant activity since the 2011 overthrow of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Militant attacks in Sinai have increased in frequency since the democratically elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, was deposed and former general Fattah el-Sisi was elected president in July 2013.
Protests marking Mubarak’s overthrow this week and the Egyptian government’s strong-handed response raised tensions in the short term. On Sunday, 25 people were killed when police broke up anti-government protests on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising.
The Egyptian government also angered Sinai residents when it demolished hundreds of homes along the Sinai-Gaza border in late 2014 to make a “buffer zone” between Sinai and the troubled Palestinian territory.