Egypt militants attack Sinai security building

Published Sunday, September 16, 2012

Militants attacked a security building in Egypt's Sinai Sunday sparking clashes, while three policemen were wounded in separate fighting in the area, security officials told AFP.

The clashes erupted as armed men belonging to Islamic militant groups attacked the North Sinai security headquarters in the town of Al-Arish at dawn using rocket propelled grenades and automatic rifles, one official said.

"They positioned themselves on the roofs of buildings opposite the security headquarters and launched the RPGs," the official said.

Fighting stopped after the militants fled the area.

"It seems they set off an explosive device at the security headquarters first before using the RPGs," the official said.

In a separate incident, fighting between militants and security forces in the town of Sheikh Zuwayyid near the border with the Gaza Strip left three policemen wounded, another official said.

Militants then attacked the Sheikh Zuwayyid police station. One woman and one child were injured in the ensuing clashes, the officials said.

Eight people were also arrested in a town south of Sheikh Zuwayyid.

A security official said the eight have "connections to militant groups" but residents denied the allegations.

Egyptian security forces launched a campaign to crush increasingly brazen Islamist militants in the restive Sinai peninsula after an attack on an army outpost killed 16 soldiers on August 5.

The government always struggled with militancy and smuggling in the region but it lost its grip after an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak early last year, prompting the collapse of his discredited police force and allowing the militants to flourish.

Earlier this month, the army said its forces had killed 32 "criminal elements" in the ongoing Operation Sinai which was launched days after the border post attack.

"The operation will continue until its goals have been achieved... These are not just military goals but also developmental goals for the Sinai," army spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali said at the time.

Ali said that during Operation Sinai 31 smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt to the neighboring Gaza Strip had been destroyed.

But "there are 225 main tunnels and each has two to three openings," he said.

The tunnels trade, which analysts estimate is worth half a billion dollars a year, has played a significant part in Gaza's economy since Israel first imposed a blockade in 2006 following the capture of one of its soldiers, who has since been released.

They are used for bringing in a wide variety of goods, including food, fuel and building materials in what many say is a lifeline for the Gaza population.

The UN has declared the situation in the besieged Gaza strip as a humanitarian crisis, with food insecurity comprising 60 percent of the population during the darkest years of the siege.

The tunnels have mitigated the effects of the siege over time and malnutrition figures have risen steadily with their increased use.

But authorities say they have also been used to smuggle weapons.

"We have seized arms, rockets, RPGs, automatic rifles," said Ali.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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