Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Soldiers killed by suicide bombers

A soldier stands guard next to an armoured personnel carrier in Cairo, Egypt (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In near-simultaneous attacks, a pair of suicide bombers rammed their explosives-laden cars into military targets in Egypt's volatile Sinai Peninsula, killing at least nine soldiers and nudging the conflict there closer to a full-blown insurgency.

The bombings in the town of Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip appear to be a deadly response by insurgents to a military crackdown on their north Sinai hideouts that has reportedly left over three dozen dead.

Suicide attacks are a new element in the wave of political violence triggered initially by the ousting of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, and intensified by a violent crackdown on his supporters' protest camps. They suggest that al Qaida-inspired groups may be developing a new capability to strike at security and other targets, both in Sinai and elsewhere in Egypt.

One of the two bombings in the town of Rafah brought down a two-story building housing the local branch of military intelligence. It collapsed the entire structure, two security officials said, speaking anonymously because they were not authorised to talk to the media. They said no bodies were found under the rubble, but the attack left 10 soldiers and seven civilians, three of them women, wounded.

The second attack targeted an armoured personnel carrier at an army checkpoint not far from the intelligence headquarters. Officials said the remains of the two suicide bombers have been recovered. The officials gave a death toll of nine for both attacks but did not say how many were killed in each.

"The use of car bombs and suicide attacks is a new turn," military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali said. He said the bombings appear to be revenge for the Sinai offensive, which he said hurt the militants by destroying weapons and ammunition caches. "This will not stop us, but will increase our determination to confront terrorism," he said.

The attacks come less than a week after a suicide car bombing targeted the convoy of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police, shortly after he left his east Cairo home. Mr Ibrahim escaped unharmed but a civilian was killed. One of the al Qaida-inspired groups based in Sinai, Ansar Jerusalem, later claimed responsibility for that bombing. The claim was never verified. If true, it would be the first time a Sinai-based group carried a suicide attack in the heart of Cairo.

These three bombings, plus another one in Sinai last month, are the first in Egypt since the 2011 uprising that overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The conflict in the Sinai adds to Egypt's woes as it struggles to regain political stability and economic viability.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attacks. Col Ali said it was still early to determine which group or groups carried it out. However, Ansar Jerusalem issued a statement claiming responsibility for three other recent attacks on the military. In a statement, the group blasted Egypt's military for conducting "a dirty war, deputising all anti-Islam forces in and outside Egypt, especially the Jews". The group has ties to militants in the Gaza Strip, and has claimed in the past attacks on Israel.

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