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Has Egypt failed to secure Sinai?

Successive terrorist operations in just 24 hours clearly reveal the plan of terrorist groups to intensify terrorist attacks in the northern Sinai Peninsula.

CAIRO — Unknown gunmen killed three citizens in the Sinai Peninsula on July 18, an Egyptian security source was quoted as saying by the German Press Agency (DPA).

The anonymous source said that armed groups set up an ambush on the international road near Hasna city in central Sinai in the afternoon and killed three citizens before fleeing to the desert of central Sinai. Witnesses told DPA that an armed group cut off the international road, stopped vehicles and forced three citizens to step out of a car and shot them.

The same day, spokesman of the armed forces Col. Tamer al-Rifai wrote on his official Facebook page that armed forces had foiled a suicide attack close to a security checkpoint in northern Sinai.

Rifai said, “Forces were able to thwart a suicide attack by a terrorist near a car park in the town of Sheikh Zuweid, close to a security checkpoint.” He added that the attack was averted because of the alertness of the security forces. According to him, the militant was shot before he reached the checkpoint, leading to the detonation of the explosive belt that killed the terrorist and a member of the armed forces.

In a phone call to Ten TV the same day, Rifai said the checkpoint is located at the entrance of a populated neighborhood in Sheikh Zuweid, with a market next to the car park and near the checkpoint. The militant was killed instantly before he could reach the area and kill many people. 

On July 19, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack near the checkpoint and said that the name of the attacker was Abu Omar al-Saidi.

In another incident, on July 17, a group of armed men stopped cars on the international road of el-Arish-al-Qantara, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of el-Arish in northern Sinai, and set up an ambush before beheading six civilians in front of passersby and travelers, according to witnesses and security sources quoted by the DPA.

The armed men also kidnapped three individuals before fleeing to the Sinai desert, the sources added. An anonymous source from Bir al-Abed Hospital confirmed to the DPA the arrival of six beheaded individuals to the hospital.

Another security source confirmed the incident noting the arrival of a large group of security forces to the area and the closure of the main roads in Sinai. Military planes were seen flying over the area in search of the perpetrators, according to the source.

In less than one day, 11 people were killed in three separate armed attacks in separate regions of Sinai.

On July 21, Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly announced his decision to impose a curfew in some areas in northern Sinai, which began on July 25.

Khaled Okasha, director of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that the armed forces’ response to the attack on the Sheikh Zuweid checkpoint was efficient and that without the alertness of the armed forces the death toll would have been much higher.

Okasha explained that the successive terrorist operations that happened within 24 hours in northern Sinai clearly reveal the plan of armed groups to intensify terrorist operations, following the Africa Cup of Nations that took place in Egypt between June 21 and July 19.

He noted that the security forces exposed the plan of terrorist groups to intensify their operations in order to increase the media attention, while the government imposed a curfew to sweep the area and eliminate terrorist cells.

He added that the biggest challenge in confronting the terrorists in Sinai is identifying them among the public. By implementing the curfew, the security forces can work more efficiently without ordinary citizens out on the streets.

Ali al-Rajjal, a researcher specializing in security studies who works as a studies supervisor at Mominoun Without Borders, believes that the three incidents are a major failure on the part of the security forces in controlling the terrorists in Sinai.

He told Al-Monitor, “Sinai is known to be teeming with armed men and terrorists, and the government has been fighting them for years. However, it has become evidently clear that terrorists are still executing killing and kidnapping operations undeterred.”

He added, “The recurrence of these events reveals a major unprecedented failure. Civilians are being slaughtered and beheaded on the side of the road, which reveals severe security negligence that needs to be fixed immediately.”

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