London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Egyptian military announced on Thursday that it had eliminated “terrorism” from the restive Sinai Peninsula, contradicting statements made the same day by interim president Adly Mansour slamming terrorism in the same region and calling for “the elimination of its roots in this precious spot of the country.”
In comments carried by state news agency MENA, the head of Egypt’s forces in Sinai, Maj. Gen. Mohamed Al-Shahat, claimed that Cairo had gained “complete control over the situation” in the Sinai Peninsula.
“There is obvious stability in Sinai despite rumors that there are still terrorist elements and tunnels in North Sinai,” he said. Egypt launched a massive security campaign against Islamist militants based in the Sinai Peninsula this month, carrying out raids on militant bases and arresting dozens of suspects.
Since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi last July, Islamist militants have used the Sinai Peninsula as a base for attacks on security personnel and state infrastructure. Militant group Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis has been the most prominent of these, claiming responsibility for a number of attacks across the country.
Cairo contends that this group is a front for the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, although the Brotherhood denies that accusation.
Egypt’s military has announced the arrest or elimination of dozens of “terrorists” in the Sinai Peninsula since Mursi’s ouster.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Cairo was set to receive 10 additional Apache attack helicopters from the US to aid in its counter-terrorism efforts, after Washington announced the temporary lifting of a suspension of certain arms shipments earlier this week.
Shahat made his comments to reporters on the 32nd anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai, which it had invaded during the 1956 Suez crisis. He said his forces had destroyed more than 1,500 tunnels between Sinai and the Gaza Strip in order to stop the illegal flow of arms into the country.
“One or two incidents will not rattle us . . . but I can say that we are tacking the issue [of terrorism on the Sinai Peninsula] with an iron fist,” he said.
On the same day, Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) quoted interim President Adly Mansour as saying that “the construction and development phase requires complete eradication of terrorism in Sinai,” during a televised speech to mark the anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai.
Mansour called for establishing a comprehensive national project to promote development in the Sinai Peninsula, but said that the authorities must first eradicate terrorism from the region. The interim president called for unity, stressing that “terrorism means to tear the country apart but the state will succeed in definitively uprooting it from the Sinai Peninsula.”