Egypt’s army spokesman today claimed that airstrikes late yesterday killed 16 Islamist militants in the town of Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai. Prior to this announcement, the army spokesman said in a separate statement that security forces had thwarted a plot to bomb a bus transporting soldiers in North Sinai.
The army spokesman failed to provide details on those purportedly killed. According to Xinhua, one of those killed was a leader in Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis), the Sinai-based jihadist group that has conducted numerous attacks against Egyptian security sites and personnel.
Ansar Jerusalem, the dominant jihadist group in the Sinai and the only one to have claimed responsibility for more than one attack in the area since July, has yet to say whether any of its fighters were killed. The group last announced the death of one its fighters on Jan. 2.
Meanwhile, in Cairo, authorities continued to search for those responsible for yesterday’s bombing attack that wounded six policemen, al Masry al Youm reported. A recently announced jihadist group calling itself Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) has taken credit for the attack.
“Friday’s deaths bring the total number of militants killed since [Jan. 24] to nearly 60,” the Associated Press reported. Independent confirmation of the results of Egyptian military operations in North Sinai is close to impossible to come by. On Feb. 3, Egyptian officials told a variety of media outlets that airstrikes had killed or wounded 40 to 45 Islamist militants.
However, Egypt’s army spokesman Ahmed Ali, well-known for announcing alleged successes in the Sinai, issued no statement. Local Sinai residents said the claims were false, the Washington Post reported.
Both Ansar Jerusalem and media reports have previously suggested that the Egyptian military exaggerates the success of its operations. For example, following the August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers at a military outpost in Rafah, Egyptian forces claimed to have carried out massive operations against jihadists in the Sinai. Reports soon emerged of the falsity of much of what the military was claiming, however.
As one NPR reporter stated: “We found that a lot of that huge military operation was actually quite fictional. We couldn’t really find evidence of these major attacks. A lot of the reports of militants being killed were really exaggerated.”
Since July 3, there have been at least 300 reported attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, most of which were carried out against Egyptian security forces and assets, according to data maintained by The Long War Journal. A good number of these attacks, including the Nov. 20 car bombing that killed 11 Egyptian security personnel, have been claimed by Ansar Jerusalem.
Attacks by Sinai-based jihadists, Ansar Jerusalem specifically, have also taken place in the Egyptian mainland. On Sept. 5, the jihadist group used a suicide car bomber in an assassination attempt in Nasr City on Egypt’s interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim. A month later, an Ansar Jerusalem suicide bomber unleashed a blast at the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, which killed three security personnel and injured more than 45. On Oct. 19, the Sinai-based jihadist group targeted a military intelligence building in the city of Ismailia in another car bombing. And on Nov. 19, the group claimed responsibility for the shooting attack on Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Mabrouk, a senior national security officer, in Cairo. In late December, an Ansar Jerusalem suicide car bombing attack outside the Daqahliya security directorate in Mansoura killed over a dozen people and injured at least 130 more. Most recently, Ansar Jerusalem took credit for a series of bombings in Cairo, including a car bombing at the Cairo Security Directorate, on Jan. 24, 2014, that left at least six people dead. On Jan. 28, the group said its fighters were responsible for the assassination of an aide to Egypt’s Interior Minister in Cairo.