An Egyptian militant group linked to Islamic State claimed responsibility for overnight attacks in the Sinai peninsula that left at least 30 members of the security forces and civilians dead.
The assault late on Thursday, the most deadly jihadist strike since 30 troops were killed in October, included a suicide bombing on a regional security headquarters in north Sinai and mortar fire. Among other targets hit was a hotel. More than 100 people were wounded, state media said, while Al-Jazeera television put the death toll as high as 42.
The Sinai-based Wilayat Sinai, previously known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, said it carried out the strike. The group, which has declared allegiance to Islamic State, said on a website that 100 militants took part in the attack, describing it as revenge for “our sisters held in the prisons of the Egyptian government.”
Violence in Sinai has flared since the military-backed ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013, and amid a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that backed his presidency. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who as army chief led the removal of Mursi, needs an improvement in security as he seeks to lure back the investors who have deserted Egypt during four years of turmoil.
Egyptian officials declared a state of emergency in north Sinai after the October attack, and changed the law to allow civilians charged with terrorism to be tried in military courts. The border with the Gaza Strip, run by the militant group Hamas that’s allied to the Brotherhood, was closed and a kilometer-wide buffer zone abutting the territory was enforced. Parts of the region are still under a daytime curfew.
Egypt’s crackdown on Islamists under El-Sisi has widened to include secular activists, and has drawn criticism from rights groups that say Egypt is returning to the kind of police state run by former dictator Hosni Mubarak. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been killed and 20,000 arrested.
About two dozen people died last weekend as police confronted protesters marking the fourth anniversary of the revolt that toppled Mubarak.
Unrest has kept tourists and investors away, while El-Sisi has been bolstered by billions of dollars pledged by Gulf allies. The government aims to introduce a new investment law next month in its efforts to attract at least $8 billion in foreign investment in the year that ends in June, almost double the previous year’s total.