Sinai attacks kill 15 soldiers, 2 civilians

Defying one of the toughest security crackdowns in Egypt’s history, gunmen attacked several military checkpoints in Sinai Peninsula

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Fifteen soldiers were killed in five simultaneous attacks Thursday targeting security checkpoints in Egypt's North Sinai, where the army is battling the local branch of ISIS, police said.

Gunmen opened fire on soldiers with automatic rifles and rockets at separate checkpoints south of Sheikh Zuweid, east of the provincial capital of El-Arish, police officials told AFP.

Fifteen soldiers and two civilians were killed in the attacks, while 15 militants died in subsequent gun battles, the officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but militants who support ISIS, the ultra-hardline group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria, have carried out similar operations in Sinai.

Egypt is gradually recovering from years of political turmoil following the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and foreign investors are starting to return. But the biggest Arab state still faces security challenges on several fronts.

Sinai-based militants have killed hundreds of soldiers and police since the army toppled Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

That insurgency has spread to other parts of Egypt though bombing attacks in cities and towns are usually far less dramatic.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has spearheaded an Arab initiative to create a joint military force to confront regional security challenges, says militants based next door in chaos-ridden Libya also pose a threat to Egypt.

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