CAIRO — Islamic State-affiliated militants unleashed a wave of coordinated attacks on security checkpoints in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, the latest strike in a surge in global violence by sympathizers of the group.
At least 10 soldiers were killed in the large-scale assault in the restive region, the Egyptian army said. However, other sources put the casualty figures much higher. The Associated Press reported that at least 50 soldiers were killed.
As clashes continued on Wednesday afternoon, Israel closed its border crossings with Egypt as a precautionary measure.
The breadth of the attack demonstrates the ability of militants in Egypt to maintain their reach in the country, despite years of battles with security forces. It came just two days after the country’s top prosecutor was assassinated in a bombing in the capital, Cairo.
The Islamic State has called for a “month of fire” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, urging suicide bomb attacks. Attacks by the group and its affiliates or suspected sympathizers have since shaken France, Kuwait and Tunisia.
A group named the Sinai Province, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in November, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s assault. Its fighters attacked 15 checkpoints and carried out three suicide bombings, the group said in a statement circulated on social media. One blast hit an officer’s club in the city of Arish, it said.
An Egyptian army spokesman, Gen. Mohamed Abd el-Aziz, said in a statement that around 70 militants launched attacks on five checkpoints in the north Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid. Thirty-nine militants were killed, according to the army.
North Sinai, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, has been the site of heated battles between the military forces and militant Islamists for years. But attacks have been increasing in frequency since the military backed the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, in July 2013. According to some military experts, the attacks also have been increasing in sophistication.
Sinai Province launched a similarly deadly attack in January on checkpoints in Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, resulting in the deaths of 44 army and police personnel.