Suspected Islamist militants attacked an Egyptian police patrol near the Israeli border today. Egyptian security officials told the Associated Press that four police vehicles came under fire near a pipeline that has been attacked numerous times since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
Seven policemen were reportedly wounded during the attack, “including a high ranking officer.”
Meanwhile, in what appears to be a separate incident, an Egyptian army officer was killed by a sniper “seemingly affiliated to extremist groups” in el Arish in the Northern Sinai on Friday.
Since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, a number of Salafi jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda have sprouted up in the Egyptian Sinai. The terror groups have conducted attacks against the Egyptian military and policemen, Israel, UN peacekeepers in the Sinai, and a pipeline transporting natural gas to Israel and Jordan.
Israeli intelligence believes that most of the attacks originating in the Sinai have been carried out by Ansar Jerusalem, also known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. According to a recent report, Western officials estimate that there are at least several hundred jihadists, some of whom are from Yemen and Somalia, now operating in the Sinai.
In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities have seized a number of weapons in the Sinai believed to be destined for the Gaza Strip, including short-range rockets and antiaircraft and antitank missiles. On Jan. 7, Egyptian authorities foiled a car bomb plot in the city of Rafah, near Gaza; the intended target is still unclear.
Following the Rafah incident, Egyptian authorities issued a security alert for the Sinai as intelligence services received information about potential attacks by extremist groups in the Sinai.
Today the Israel Defense Forces announced an order “prohibiting civilians from traveling in the area of Israel’s Highway 10 near the Israeli-Egyptian border, except with special permission, for the next year.” The directive was issued following “a thorough security assessment conducted by the IDF.”
Israel recently completed most of its border fence with Egypt. The barrier is intended to help prevent the influx illegal migrants as well as stop jihadists operating in the Sinai from carrying out attacks in Israel.