London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said “foreign hands” were behind Friday’s attack on troops in the country’s restive Sinai Peninsula, which resulted in the deaths of 31 soldiers.
In a speech following an emergency meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Saturday, Sisi said that “there was foreign support for the attacks,” adding that the ongoing terrorist attacks targeting the country aim to “break the will of the [Egyptian] people and army.”
“Since before July 3, 2013, we had a choice—either the people or the army would have to confront terror. We chose that the army carry out the mission,” Sisi said.
“A plot is being woven against all of us. All that is happening has been expected. Egypt is battling a huge war—an existential battle. We should remain united; one hand, one heart,” the Egyptian president said during a televised nationwide address.
“There are attempts to drive a wedge between the people and the army. No-one will be able to divide the Egyptian people and its army,” the former defense chief added.
The Egyptian president declared a state of emergency in much of the Sinai Peninsula, where the Egyptian army has been fighting against an Al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis. The state of emergency is set to last for three months, local media reported. A curfew is also being enforced from 5:00 pm until 7:00 am in the affected areas.
“Reforming the new Egypt will necessitate a lot of blood, work and effort, so we all have to work closely hand-in-hand,” Sisi told the nation during Saturday’s address.
“I have noted before that the war in Sinai will last for a long time, as there are a lot of terrorists hiding in the peninsula, but this new level of attacks has put us in a new level of planning too in order to combat the terrorism there,” he added.
While the Egyptian president did not explicitly say that the group was behind the Sinai attack, many analysts and experts believe that the group is most likely responsible, after claiming responsibility for similar attacks in the past.
At least 31 Egyptian soldiers were killed in a suicide car bombing and a second attack on Friday in the northern part of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Twenty-eight soldiers were reported killed and thirty others injured when a car bomb exploded outside a military checkpoint close to the border town of El-Arish. Gunmen also attacked another checkpoint south of El-Arish, resulting in the death of three Egyptian military personnel.