BEIRUT (AFP) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed an attack that killed eight Egyptian policemen in the restive Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday (June 5), as the country marked the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
“Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria) fighters this morning launched two simultaneous attacks on two police checkpoints in the city of El-Arish,” said a statement released by the Islamist group’s propaganda wing, Amaq.
It claimed that 10 policemen were killed in the two attacks; one on a checkpoint south of El-Arish and another on a second checkpoint in a “nearby area”.
It said the twin operation was designed to “divide” the attention of security forces and give militants enough time to pull back before reinforcements arrived.
The country’s Interior Ministry said eight Egyptian policeman were killed in an attack on the northeastern region, a hotbed of a years-long insurgency by militants, some linked to ISIS.
Egyptian state television said there were fears the death toll could rise, amid reports of attacks on multiple checkpoints.
Amaq said the operation also aimed to undermine attempts by Egyptian police to portray El-Areesh as being safe from ISIS attacks.
Egypt has for years been battling North Sinai insurgents affiliated with the ISIS group.
Hundreds of police officers and soldiers have been killed in attacks which surged after the army’s ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The Interior Ministry said last month it had intelligence that militants were planning attacks on “important and vital facilities”, as well as prominent figures in El-Arish.
In late 2017, North Sinai was the scene of the deadliest terror attack in Egypt’s modern history when militants killed more than 300 worshippers at a mosque, without any group claiming responsibility.
In February 2018, the army launched a nationwide offensive against the Islamists, focused mainly on the North Sinai.
According to official figures, around 650 militants have been killed since the start of the operation, while the army has lost some 50 soldiers.
No independent statistics are available and the region is largely cut off to journalists, making verification of casualty figures extremely difficult.
Last month, a roadside bomb hit a tourist bus near Egypt's famed Giza pyramids, wounding several passengers including South Africans.
The attack dealt another blow to the North African country's efforts to revive its key tourism industry after years of turmoil.
Authorities have gone at great lengths to lure tourists back, touting enhanced security at stadiums and airports.
The country is set to host the African Cup of Nations later this month, although most matches will take place well away from the troubled North Sinai region.