Egypt launches new assault against Sinai militants
FILE - In this Tuesday, May 21, 2013, file photo, Egyptian Army soldiers patrol in an armored vehicle backed by a helicopter gunship during a sweep through villages in Sheikh Zuweyid, northern Sinai, Egypt. A military official said Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, Egyptian helicopters and tanks are attacking Islamic militants in villages in the northern Sinai Peninsula. The Saturday assault came after Egypt deployed a column of armored vehicles and trucks carrying infantry into the region, a militant stronghold, in a major new counterinsurgency offensive, the official said. (AP Photo, File)
Egyptian helicopter gunships and tanks pounded suspected hideouts and weapon caches of Islamic militants yesterday in the northern Sinai Peninsula in what locals say is the largest operation in the lawless region for years. Nine militants and two soldiers were killed during the raids, security officials said.
Officials said that the military is hunting hundreds of militants believed to be responsible for a series of attacks in the region they overran after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The militants, the officials said, belong to a number of well-known al-Qaida-inspired groups that seek the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in northern Sinai, a region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Attacks in the region have increased following the July 3 military coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist, prompting the military offensive.
Early yesterday, resident said they saw winding columns of trucks and armored vehicles pour into the area. Some said they hadn’t seen soldiers on foot in their villages in decades. Communications were jammed for hours, as authorities seized control of two telephone exchanges.
Military helicopters hovered overhead in a dozen villages concentrated near two border towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweyid, security officials said. Airstrikes targeted shacks believed to be gathering points of militants, they said.
“Successive strikes are aimed at causing paralysis of the militant groups and cutting communications between each other,” a security official said. “The offensive is carried out within a timeframe where there will be periods of calm for intelligence before resuming once again.”
“We aim for cleansing the whole region of militants and preventing them from coming back,” he added.
Other officials said two soldiers were killed in a nighttime attack by militants in the town of Sheikh Zuweyid in northern Sinai. The soldiers were there as part of the offensive.
In a statement, Army spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said nine suspected militants were killed yesterday and nine others detained.
Earlier, another official said “dozens” were wounded in the Sinai offensive.