El-Arish, Egypt AP—A powerful explosion killed five Egyptian police conscripts and an officer near the border town of Rafah in the restive Sinai Peninsula early on Tuesday, in an attack that bore the hallmarks of a local Al-Qaeda-inspired group, Egyptian security officials said.
The Interior Ministry and a security official said the bomb was hidden deep under the asphalt of a highway, in an area called Wadi Halfa, where a joint police and army force was passing early in the morning.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said the blast shredded the armored vehicle, killing the policemen instantly. The force was assigned to detect explosives, but it was unclear if they were searching for them at the time of the attack. No further details were immediately available.
Islamic extremists have escalated attacks over the past year against police and army personnel in retaliation for the military-led ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi following mass demonstrations against him. Suicide bombings, assassinations and roadside bombs have claimed the lives of dozens of policemen and army officers. More recently, militants have beheaded men they accused of spying on them for Israeli intelligence.
While the authorities blame Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood group for the violence, another Al-Qaeda-inspired group known as Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for most of the major attacks.
The group says it is avenging the authorities’ extensive crackdown on Mursi’s Islamist supporters, who have been staging near-daily protests demanding his reinstatement. The clampdown has resulted in hundreds of deaths and led to thousands being jailed.
The insurgency is more intense in the Sinai Peninsula, which is home to Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis and other extremist militants. For years, the northern region bordering Gaza and Israel has been a militant stronghold and base for weapons and militant smuggling to and from Gaza.
Since Mursi’s ouster, Egyptian military and police have launched a wide offensive against the militants, but counterattacks continue. Tuesday’s bombing is identical to an explosion on September 2 that killed 11 police officers in the same area, also via an underground roadside bomb detonated remotely.
Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attack days later, posting a video showing its preparation and execution as militants shouted “God is great.”
On Monday, the military said its troops had killed 56 militants and seized a large amount of explosives over the two-week period between August 31 and mid-September.