CAIRO: Dozens of people were killed Wednesday in a wave of unprecedented attacks by the Islamic State group on Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, in a major challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
F-16 warplanes bombarded the militants as they fought security forces on the streets of the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid after striking military checkpoints in a surprise attack after dawn.
Medical and security officials said at least 70 people, mostly soldiers, were killed in the attacks and hours of clashes, along with dozens of jihadists.
The military said 17 soldiers and 100 militants had been killed. It was not immediately possible to explain the discrepancy.
The militants withdrew from Sheikh Zuweid after almost eight hours of fighting, the officials said.
The violence came two days after state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated in a Cairo car bombing, the most senior government official killed in the jihadist insurgency.
Also on Wednesday, Egypt’s government adopted a controversial anti-terror law put forward after his killing that imposes harsher punishments on convicted terrorists and aims to target their sources of financing.
In the capital, police killed senior Muslim Brotherhood member Nasser al-Houfi and eight others during a raid on an apartment, security officials and a member of the Islamist movement said.
The Sinai attacks were the most brazen in their scope since jihadists launched an insurgency in 2013 following the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
‘This is war’
Militants took over rooftops and fired rocket-propelled grenades at a police station in Sheikh Zuweid after mining its exits to block reinforcements, a police colonel said.
“This is war,” a senior military officer told AFP. “It’s unprecedented, in the number of terrorists involved and the type of weapons they are using.”
One car bomb attack against a checkpoint south of Sheikh Zuweid killed 15 soldiers.
F-16 jets responded by striking the militants in several locations, said officials and a witness, who added: “There are gunmen on the streets. They have planted mines everywhere.”
Explosions were heard and plumes of smoke seen over Sheikh Zuweid from the neighboring Gaza Strip, witnesses there said.
The Islamic State group said its jihadists surrounded the police station after launching attacks on 15 checkpoints and security installations using suicide car bombers and rockets.
Troops regularly come under attack in the Sinai, where jihadists have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since Morsi’s overthrow.
IS said the assault had involved three suicide bombers. “In a blessed raid enabled by God, the lions of the caliphate have simultaneously attacked more than 15 checkpoints belonging to the apostate army,” it said in a statement.
Warplanes resumed strikes against IS positions into the early hours of Thursday, security officials said.