Militants have carried out a wave of attacks, including a suicide car bombing, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the troubled Sinai Peninsula. Military officials said that at least 15 security personnel were killed.
The deadly attacks took place south of the town of Sheikh Zuweid, targeting five military checkpoints in northern Sinai. Military officials confirmed that roughly 70 insurgents also took soldiers captive and managed to seize several armored vehicles and were involved in besieging the town's main police station.
In addition to the 15 confirmed victims, 50 others were reported to have been wounded. Some news sources pinned the number of casualties at 30 Egyptian soldiers. A military official told the Egyptian state-run newspaper "Al Ahram" that 22 "terrorists" had been killed in ensuing clashes.
Officials also said that as part of the attacks, a suicide car bombing had destroyed one military checkpoint while another had been first hit by mortar shells and rocket propelled grenades.
The "Islamic State" ("IS") claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Attack follow assassination of top prosecutor
The synchronized attacks came just two days after the assassination of the country's top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. In response, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi vowed to step up a two-year crackdown on militants, including those belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's oldest Islamist group, which has been declared a terrorist organization.
"We will stand in the face of the whole world, and fight the whole world," President el-Sissi said in reply to the recent wave of violence.
He added as a warning to rebel forces: "If there is a death sentence, it will be carried out."
Political instability fuels insurgency
Militants in northern Sinai have been battling military forces for several years. They started carrying out attacks on security troops in the region, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, with the onset of the 2011 popular uprising, which toppled Egypt's longtime dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
President el-Sissi has issued a warning that he would use the full extent of the law to prosecute militants
However, the frequency of the attacks has been stepped up following the July 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The wave of violence came one day after the second anniversary of protests that preceded the coup against Morsi.
El-Sissi, the nation's former army chief, led the coup and went on to become Egypt's president, winning elections a year ago. Since then, he has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and IS.
The move has led to thousands of arrests, mass convictions and death sentences.Morsi is among those condemned to die, but has a lengthy appeal process ahead of him.
ss/kms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)