News Column

Rocket Hits Intelligence Office in Sinai

August 19, 2013

Pol O Gradaigh and Nehal El-Sherif, dpa

A rocket hit the military intelligence offices in northern Sinai on Monday despite tight security measures taken after 26 police conscripts were killed by suspected Islamist militants.

Clashes erupted between gunmen and security forces as armed groups attacked a police station and a prison in Northern Sinai's provincial capital, al-Arish.

Earlier Monday, 11 gunmen targeted conscripts riding in two civilian minibuses nearing the town of Rafah on the border with the Gaza Strip, security sources told dpa.

The gunmen reportedly forced the conscripts off the buses and ordered the drivers to leave the scene.

The drivers alerted army forces at the nearest checkpoint, but when security forces reached the scene they found the troops' bodies laid out on the ground, indicating they had been made to lie down before being shot execution-style.

The remote desert region has seen regular attacks by Islamist militants on security forces since the 2011 revolution that toppled president Hosny Mubarak.

The rate of attacks has surged since the military overthrew president Mohammed Morsi in on July 3, unleashing deadly clashes across the country between supporters of the ousted Islamist leader and forces of the army-backed government.

Hours after the ambush, gunmen also attacked a bank in al-Arish and shot a police major dead.

The bodies were transferred to Cairo in the evening, and were received by Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim and Army Chief of Staff Sedki Sobhy at the Almaza military airport.

The border area around Rafah and nearby Sheikh Zuweid was quickly sealed off by security forces backed up by helicopters, which were searching for the gunmen.

The army also closed off all crossings between Sinai and the rest of Egypt, and deployed three extra brigades to the Sinai side of the Suez Canal.

The turmoil in Egypt deepened in the wake of crackdown by security forces on two major pro-Morsi demonstrations in Cairo last week. The government declared a state of emergency and a curfew in around 12 provinces.

Human Rights Watch called the crackdown "the worst mass unlawful killings in the country's modern history."

The New York-based group said security forces failed to plan the operation to minimize the risk to life, including by ensuring safe exits and giving public orders not to kill except in a targeted manner when absolutely necessary.

They also said that imposing a state of emergency could give security forces "license for additional reckless and unlawful use of force."

In Cairo, police raided the office of an Islamist website and arrested five people working there on suspicion of making claims of human rights abuses and stirring up public opinion against the police and armed forces.

The Muslim Brotherhood also said a number of its local leaders had been arrested in dawn raids in various parts of the country.

An Islamist alliance condemned the Sunday night incident in which 36 detainees from Friday's protest died in unclear circumstances.

"Whatever the circumstances, these citizens were in the care of the Interior Ministry ... and it decided to physically liquidate them in revenge for their stance against the blood-thirsty Military Council," the alliance charged.

The Interior Ministry said the 36 died of suffocation when the authorities used tear gas in suppressing a mass escape attempt by 612 detainees, who had taken one of their guards hostage.

State media had earlier reported that the detainees died during a firefight between their guards and gunmen trying to free them.

European Union foreign ministers will discuss the situation in Egypt at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

A senior EU diplomat said Ashton would propose various responses to the situation at the meeting.

"No options (were) ruled out today," EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean region Bernardino Leon said after a meeting of the bloc's ambassadors.

At the same time, he said, "I haven't heard any possibility of sanctions," stressing that the EU wanted to remain "a key interlocutor" and "keep channels open."

One possibility being considered is the suspension of the bloc's 5-billion-euro (6.7-billion-dollar) aid programme aimed at promoting democratic and economic reform in Egypt, according to EU diplomats.

But EU sources have said that such a decision would have little impact on the amount of EU aid reaching Egypt, since the country had failed to implement the reforms on which it was conditional.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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