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Egypt launches airstrikes against ISIS affiliate in Sinai | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Smoke rises in Egypt’s North Sinai as seen from the border from the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt, on July 1, 2015. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Smoke rises in Egypt's North Sinai as seen from the border from the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt, on July 1, 2015. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Smoke rises in Egypt’s North Sinai as seen from the border from the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt, on July 1, 2015. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt launched a series of airstrikes against militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in North Sinai on Wednesday, after over 50 people were killed in coordinated attacks in the province earlier in the day.

The army said 100 militants and 17 Egyptian soldiers were killed in Wednesday’s operation, which involved F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters. Officials said the militants had used sophisticated weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles and Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles during their attacks.

This came following coordinated attacks on five Egyptian army checkpoints earlier in the day which killed 55 people, according to officials. A police station in the city of Sheikh Zuweid was also surrounded by the militants, but the army said later on Wednesday the airstrikes had nullified the threat there.

The strikes have continued into Thursday, state television reported, and the army has said they will remain ongoing until it has cleared the North Sinai region of all “terrorist elements.”

Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb told reporters on Wednesday the country was now in a “state of war.”

Sinai Province, ISIS’s affiliate in Egypt, claimed responsibility for Wednesday morning’s attacks. The group, formerly Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, declared its allegiance to ISIS in November 2014.

Sinai Province has carried out a number of attacks on security and army personnel since late 2013, after the army ousted former president and senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohamed Mursi after mass protests against his one-year rule.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday, one security analyst said the latest attacks showed the group was now posing a greater threat since its affiliation to ISIS.

“The operation reveals a development as well as large foreign support for Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, which has now evolved from a mere terrorist group into an organized army planning and moving in a calculated manner and using high-grade weaponry—even using anti-aircraft missiles during the attack [on Wednesday],” the analyst said, using Sinai Province’s former name.

The source added that Wednesday’s attack, which saw suicide bombings carried out at different army checkpoints followed by militants surrounding the areas and cutting off supply and reinforcement lines, “exactly mirrored ISIS’s strategy in Syria and Iraq.”

Wednesday’s attacks were the most organized and large-scale since the army ousted Mursi. They came two days after Egypt’s highest judicial official, was killed in a bomb attack that targeted his motorcade in central Cairo.

In a separate incident on Wednesday, Nasser Al-Hufi, a member of the banned Brotherhood group and former MP, was killed during a raid by security services on his home in Cairo. He was wanted for charges relating to disturbing the peace and vandalism.

The Brotherhood was banned in Egypt in late 2013 as a terrorist organization following a spate of attacks on army and security personnel mostly in Cairo, which the government blames on the group.

Former president Mursi and other senior Brotherhood figures such as the groups’ leader Mohammed Badie were handed death sentences in June after being convicted of charges relating to a mass prison break during Egypt’s 2011 revolution.