At least 11 Egyptian soldiers were killed and 37 wounded in the restive Sinai on Wednesday when an attacker detonated a car bomb as a bus filled with troops passed by.
It was the deadliest attack against security forces since August and a sign that efforts to contain al Qaida-linked insurgents in the region have failed. Egypt’s strongman, Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, vowed to avenge the deaths as the caskets of the slain soldiers arrived at the Almaza military base in Cairo.
“People should know we are all ready to die in order for Egypt to stay alive,” he said
Until Wednesday’s attack, the military had heralded its offensive in the northern Sinai as a success, saying it had quashed a major source of terrorism. But the attack on the soldiers lent credibility to residents’ assertions to McClatchy in September that the military’s seemingly indiscriminate campaign had created new enemies rather than eliminated old ones.
Tensions remained high hours after the 8:45 a.m. attack, which targeted the bus full of soldiers as it traveled along the road that links the coastal city of el-Arish with the town of Sheikh Zuwayed. Residents said security forces shot at vehicles approaching the bomb site, according to a reporter who approached it Wednesday.
Throughout the day, state television broadcast photos of bloodied and bandaged soldiers in gurneys being taken from a military cargo plane to waiting ambulances.
Since the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July, roughly 100 police officers and soldiers have been killed in northern Sinai, including in an August ambush on troops that killed 24 and triggered the military’s move into the Sinai, a campaign that’s claimed the lives, according to residents, of 52 civilians.
The battle between jihadists and the new military-led government has reached Cairo as well. Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, an al Qaida-affiliated jihadist group based in the Sinai, claimed responsibility for the killing Monday in Cairo of a police officer, Mohammed Mabrouk. Mabrouk reportedly was investigating cases involving jihadist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency. Ansar Bayt al Maqdis also claimed responsibility for the September assassination attempt on Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim as he was driving through Cairo.
Contributing to this report were McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail in Cairo and a correspondent based in el-Arish whose identity is being withhold for security reasons.