Emergency personnel and security forces are pictured outside the Swiss Inn hotel in the Egyptian town of El-Arish following an attack on November 24, 2015
CAIRO (AFP) – The death toll from a gun and bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State group in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has risen to seven, the health ministry said on Wednesday.Two of the dead in Tuesday’s attack on the Swiss Inn hotel in the North Sinai provincial capital El-Arish were judges who had been overseeing voting in parliamentary elections earlier this week, ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed said.
Four of the dead were policemen. The seventh victim was a civilian.
A suicide bomber blew up a vehicle at the security barrier outside the hotel, allowing at least one other attacker to enter and go from room to room shooting before blowing himself up.
Jihadists in the Sinai who have pledged allegiance to IS have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.
They also claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian passenger plane after it left the south Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on October 31, killing all 224 people on board.
Unlike the north of the peninsula, which has become a jihadist stronghold and is off-limits to tourists, south Sinai is dotted with heavily secured Red Sea resorts.
Egypt held a second phase of parliamentary elections on Sunday and Monday, its first legislative vote since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Morsi’s ouster unleashed a deadly police crackdown on his followers, and fuelled the insurgency in the Sinai.
CAIRO — A newspaper close to the Egyptian government says the Islamic State-linked militants who attacked troops in the Sinai Peninsula used sophisticated weaponry, including Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles.
In a graphic on its front page Thursday, el-Watan daily says the attackers also used mortars, anti-aircraft guns and other guided missiles.
The attack, which included a wave of suicide bombings and assaults on security installations by dozens of militants, was Sinai’s deadliest in decades.
The army said 17 troops and 90 militants were killed, but security officials and media reports said dozens of soldiers and some 100 militants died in the fighting.
Newspapers led their front pages with the attack, with many describing it as a “war.” Graphic photographs released by the military showed the bodies of extremists killed in the fighting who were wearing combat fatigues.
From BBC News
At least 600 Egyptian security personnel have been killed in militant attacks since 2013
Egypt in transition
Clashes between Islamic State (IS) militants and the army in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have left more than 100 dead, the military has said.
It said 17 soldiers, including four officers, and more than 100 militants were killed.
Some reports, citing local officials, put the army death toll far higher.
Near-simultaneous raids were launched on at least five military checkpoints and a police station in and around Sheikh Zuweid on Wednesday morning.
The attack was one of the largest co-ordinated assaults yet by IS in Sinai.
Eyewitness reported seeing militants roaming the streets of the northern town on Wednesday, clashing with armed forces.
An Egyptian military spokesman, Brig-Gen Mohammed Samir, told state TV later that the situation was “100% under control”.
Jihadists based in the restive region stepped up their attacks after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. At least 600 police and armed forces personnel have since been killed.
In a separate development on Wednesday, security officials said nine members of Mr Morsi’s now banned Muslim Brotherhood, including former MP Nasr al-Hafi, had been killed in a police raid on a flat in western Cairo.
The security situation in Egypt has worsened since the assassination of the public prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, two days ago in the capital.
The attack in Sheikh Zuweid is one of the biggest of its kind targeting the army in Sinai.
Eyewitnesses say IS-affiliated militants are roaming the streets, raising the flags of the extremist group. But it is always hard to verify any story in Sinai.
The army has enforced a total media blackout on the area since it intensified its fight against jihadists in 2013.
These latest assaults prove that the battle is still far from over. The long military operation, which was meant to restore peace to Sinai has, so far, failed to uproot extremism.
President Sisi has vowed to accelerate his crackdown against the “terrorists”, a broad term which does not only include extremist fighters in Sinai, but possibly all Islamists.
But many are questioning how effective his military solution is.
Gen Samir said more than 70 “terrorists” fired mortar rounds and detonated a car bomb in attacks on five checkpoints in the Sheikh Zuweid area of North Sinai province on Wednesday morning.
Security and army officials told the Associated Press that at least 50 troops had been killed and 55 wounded, and that several had also been taken captive.
Sources meanwhile told the Reuters news agency that at least 36 soldiers, policemen and civilians had been killed along with 38 militants.
Dr Osama el-Sayed of El-Arish General Hospital was cited by Reuters as saying 30 bodies had been brought in, “some of whom were wearing army fatigues”.
Islamic State’s local affiliate, Sinai Province, later said in a statement posted online that it had targeted 15 security sites and carried out three suicide attacks.
Earlier in the day, officials told AP that dozens of policemen were inside Sheikh Zuweid’s main police station, which they said was coming under mortar- and RPG-fire.
“We are not allowed to leave our homes. Clashes are ongoing. A short while ago I saw five [Toyota] Landcruisers with masked gunmen waving black flags,” Sheikh Zuweid resident Suleiman al-Sayed told Reuters.
The militants were also reported to have planted bombs along a road between Sheikh Zuweid and a nearby army camp to prevent reinforcements arriving.
North Sinai has been under a state of emergency and a curfew since October, when an attack on a checkpoint in El-Arish left dozens of soldiers dead.
Police and army patrols have been increased and additional checkpoints have been set up. In addition, a buffer zone along the border with Gaza has been created by demolishing houses and destroying underground tunnels the military says have been used to smuggle weapons from the Palestinian enclave.
Following the deaths in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement saying that several of its leaders had been “murdered… in cold blood” and urged Egyptians to “rise in revolt” against the actions of the government of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
The interior ministry said the men had been fugitive Brotherhood leaders who were meeting to plan “acts of terrorism and sabotage”.
The Muslim Brotherhood, however, said they were part of its committee supporting the families of detainees and members who had been killed.
Analysts said the car bomb attack in Cairo that killed Mr Barakat also bore the hallmarks of Sinai Province, which was known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis until it pledged allegiance to Islamic State in November and changed its name.
In a speech at Mr Barakat’s funeral on Tuesday, President Sisi promised legal reforms to ensure death sentences could be enforced more swiftly for those convicted of acts of terrorism.
Hours later, a soldier was shot dead outside a museum in southern Cairo and three suspected militants were killed when a car in which they were travelling blew up near a police station in a western suburb.
First he comes for the banks and health care, uses the IRS to go after critics, politicizes the Justice Department, spies on journalists, tries to curb religious freedom, slashes the military, throws open the borders, doubles the debt and nationalizes the Internet.
He lies to the public, ignores the Constitution, inflames race relations and urges Latinos to punish Republican “enemies.” He abandons our allies, appeases tyrants, coddles adversaries and uses the Crusades as an excuse for inaction as Islamist terrorists slaughter their way across the Mideast.
Now he’s coming for Israel.
Barack Obama’s promise to transform America was too modest. He is transforming the whole world before our eyes. Do you see it yet?
Against the backdrop of the tsunami of trouble he has unleashed, Obama’s pledge to “reassess” America’s relationship with Israel cannot be taken lightly. Already paving the way for an Iranian nuke, he is hinting he’ll also let the other anti-Semites at Turtle Bay have their way. That could mean American support for punitive Security Council resolutions or for Palestinian statehood initiatives. It could mean both, or something worse.
President Obama met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office on Friday, May 19, 2011. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times
Whatever form the punishment takes, it will aim to teach Bibi Netanyahu never again to upstage him. And to teach Israeli voters never again to elect somebody Obama doesn’t like.
Apologists and wishful thinkers, including some Jews, insist Obama realizes that the special relationship between Israel and the United States must prevail and that allowing too much daylight between friends will encourage enemies.
Those people are slow learners, or, more dangerously, deny-ists.
If Obama’s six years in office teach us anything, it is that he is impervious to appeals to good sense. Quite the contrary. Even respectful suggestions from supporters that he behave in the traditions of American presidents fill him with angry determination to do it his way.
For Israel, the consequences will be intended. Those who make excuses for Obama’s policy failures — naive, bad advice, bad luck — have not come to grips with his dark impulses and deep-seated rage.
Netanyahu and Obama. Reuters photo October 1, 2014
His visceral dislike for Netanyahu is genuine, but also serves as a convenient fig leaf for his visceral dislike of Israel. The fact that it’s personal with Netanyahu doesn’t explain six years of trying to bully Israelis into signing a suicide pact with Muslims bent on destroying them. Netanyahu’s only sin is that he puts his nation’s security first and refuses to knuckle under to Obama’s endless demands for unilateral concessions.
That refusal is now the excuse to act against Israel. Consider that, for all the upheaval around the world, the president rarely has a cross word for, let alone an open dispute with, any other foreign leader. He calls Great Britain’s David Cameron “bro” and praised Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi, who had called Zionists, “the descendants of apes and pigs.”
Obama asked Vladimir Putin for patience, promising “more flexibility” after the 2012 election, a genuflection that earned him Russian aggression. His Asian pivot was a head fake, and China is exploiting the vacuum. None of those leaders has gotten the Netanyahu treatment, which included his being forced to use the White House back door on one trip, and the cold shoulder on another.
It is a clear and glaring double standard.
Most troubling is Obama’s bended-knee deference to Iran’s Supreme Leader, which has been repaid with “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” demonstrations in Tehran and expanded Iranian military action in other countries.
The courtship reached the height of absurdity last week, when Obama wished Iranians a happy Persian new year by equating Republican critics of his nuclear deal with the resistance of theocratic hard-liners, saying both “oppose a diplomatic solution.” That is a damnable slur given that a top American military official estimates that Iranian weapons, proxies and trainers killed 1,500 US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who in their right mind would trust such an evil regime with a nuke?
Yet Netanyahu, the leader of our only reliable ally in the region, is repeatedly singled out for abuse. He alone is the target of an orchestrated attempt to defeat him at the polls, with Obama political operatives, funded in part by American taxpayers, working to elect his opponent.
They failed and Netanyahu prevailed because Israelis see him as their best bet to protect them. Their choice was wise, but they better buckle up because it’s Israel’s turn to face the wrath of Obama.
CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed off on an anti-terrorism law that gives authorities more sweeping powers to ban groups on charges ranging from harming national unity to disrupting public order.
Sisi speaks during a meeting with Egyptian air force personnel near the border of Egypt and Libya [Reuters]
The move, announced in the official Gazette on Tuesday, is likely to increase concern among rights groups over the government clawing back freedoms gained after the 2011 uprising that ended a three-decade autocracy under Hosni Mubarak.
Authorities have cracked down hard on the Islamist, secular and liberal opposition alike since then army chief Sisi toppled elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.
According to the Gazette, the law enables authorities to act against any individual or group deemed a threat to national security, including people who disrupt public transportation, an apparent reference to protests.
Loose definitions involving threats to national unity may give the police, widely accused of abuses, a green light to crush dissent, human rights groups say.
The Interior Ministry says it investigates all allegations of wrongdoing and is committed to Egypt’s democratic transition.
Under the mechanism of the law, public prosecutors ask a criminal court to list suspects as terrorists and start a trial.
Any group designated as terrorist would be dissolved, the law stipulates. It also allows for the freezing of assets belonging to the group, its members and financiers.
Since taking office in 2014, Sisi has identified Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to national security.
He has linked the Brotherhood, the region’s oldest Islamist grouping, with far more radical groups, including one based in Sinai that supports Islamic State, allegations it denies.
Hundreds of supporters of the Brotherhood, which says it is a peaceful movement, have been killed and thousands arrested in one of the toughest security crackdowns in Egypt’s history.
Since Mursi’s fall, Sinai-based militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers, and the beheading of up to 21 Egyptians in neighbouring Libya prompted Sisi to order air strikes against militant targets there.
Some Egyptians have overlooked widespread allegations of human rights abuses and backed Sisi for delivering a degree of stability following years of political turmoil since 2011.
A court on Tuesday acquitted Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Nazif and former interior minister Habib el-Adly of graft charges, judicial sources said, a day after prominent activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, was jailed for five years for violating limits on demonstrations.
“I served Egypt, and history will judge,” Nazif told reporters at the court.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.Credit Mena/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
(Reuters) – An Egyptian court sentenced 183 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death on Monday on charges of killing police officers, as authorities continued their crackdown on Islamists.
The men were convicted of playing a role in the killings of 16 policemen in the town of Kardasa in August, 2013 during the upheaval that followed the army’s ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi. Thirty four were sentenced in absentia.
Egypt has mounted one of the biggest crackdowns in its modern history on the Brotherhood since the political demise of Mursi, the country’s first democratically-elected president.
Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been arrested and put on mass trials in a campaign which human rights groups say shows the government is systematically repressing opponents.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief toppled Mursi, describes the Brotherhood as a major security threat.
The movement says it is committed to peaceful activism.
Mr. Sisi leveled the accusation despite the fact that a Sinai-based militant group with links to the Islamic State terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attacks and released photographs as proof.
The Brotherhood routinely denounces the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the Sinai militants for their violence. Those groups, in turn, criticize the Brotherhood for its focus on bottom-up political change, mocking it as little more than a tool of secular Arab governments and the West.
The Brotherhood, Egypt’s main Islamist opposition, won a general election before Mr. Sisi led a military takeover in 2013, and he often blames the group for any antigovernment violence.
In a bold yet little-reported speech, The President of Egypt has directly confronted Islamic leaders in his country and challenged them to stand against extremism in their religion.
“We are in need of a religious revolution,” President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi told imams on New Years Day at al-Azhar University in Cairo. The speech commemorated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattahel-Sisi
“You, imams, are responsible before Allah,” el-Sisi said. “The entire world … is waiting for your next move … because [the Islamic world] is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands.”
El-Sisi, 60, was elected President last June after staging a bloody coup as army leader that toppled his controversial predecessor Mohammed Morsi — the country’s first elected leader and a member of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi, who like thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters is now in prison, came to power two years after U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a popular uprising.
Since coming to power, el-Sisi has cracked down hard on Islamist extremists. Meanwhile he has signaled support to the country’s beleaguered Coptic Christian community, attending Christmas services at Cairo’s Abbasiya Cathedral and declaring that Egyptians should not view each other as Christians or Muslims but as Egyptians.
Cathedral of Abbasiya
In his New Year’s Day speech, el-Sisi told the Islamic leaders that they must lead a re-thinking of how their religion is interpreted and eliminate such extremism.
“We have to think hard about what we are facing,” he said. “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!
“Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is 7 billion — so that they themselves may live? Impossible!
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.Photo by AP
“You cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset,” el-Sisi said. “You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.”
While the president’s speech was not widely covered by large news organizations, many observers praised el-Sisi for his courage and candor. They recalled that one of his predecessors Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists in 1981 for making peace with Israel.
“One must appreciate how refreshing it is for a top political leader in the heart of the Islamic world to make such candid admissions that his Western counterparts dare not even think let alone speak,” Raymond Ibrahim, an author and expert on Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs, said in The American Spectator.
“And bear in mind, el-Sisi has much to lose as opposed to Western politicians,” he added. “Calls by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists that he is an apostate are sure to grow more aggressive now.”
The speech was denounced by a broad spectrum of critics, including many of el-Sisi’s Islamist political opponents who have wide religious followings — charging that he was trying to corrupt Islam.
Even those who would normally promote a more modern interpretation of the religion frowned on el-Sisi’s comments. “A state-approved revolution,” charged Amina Khairi, a columnist at the generally pro-state newspaper al-Watan.
Some state religious officials also pushed back against el-Sissi’s use of the word “revolution” or the idea of dramatic change.
Noting how el-Sisi’s speech was ignored by the major news outlets, Jonah Goldberg, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said in USA Today: “This is a big deal. El-Sisi is doing exactly what Westerners have been crying out for since at least Sept. 11, 2001, if not before that.
“Whatever your own view of the man, and whether you think he’s sincere, el-Sisi’s efforts to combat Muslim extremism — militarily and rhetorically — deserve closer attention,” Goldberg concluded.
However, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, remained skeptical — cautioning in a Newsmax interview that el-Sisi was a “political military figure” who quashed any opposition to his agenda. His government also controls the media and finances mosques.
“This is the guy who runs the country and throws people in jail who don’t do what he says,” observed Bandow, who has served under President Ronald Reagan as a special assistant. “This isn’t like going to independent churches, some top spiritual leader … in America, or going to local congregations and saying, rethink something.”
He likened it to “the president of the United States going to state-funded churches — where he can cut off your money and throw you out of the job — and he says, ‘I think you should talk differently.’ Those are very different things.
“He might win acquiescence, but I don’t think that he wins acceptance from the people listening,” Bandow told Newsmax. “He doesn’t have a lot of independent credibility among genuine, devout Muslims.”
True fundamentalist Islamic leaders will have the greatest impact in any such effort, not a politician with el-Sisi’s reputation, he said.
“The turning point has to come from spiritual leaders, who have been rather fundamentalist, standing up and saying: ‘We’re serious Muslims, but this is beyond the pale. Allah never intended this. This is an outrage.’
“That’s the turning point,” Bandow said. “I haven’t seen that yet. I would love to see it. We need that. Islam needs it. I don’t see how el-Sisi provides that.”
Editorial boards at three major U.S. newspapers are criticizing President Barack Obama’s foreign policy speech at West Point as incomplete and failing to recognize America’s international standing.
The New York Times editorial board, often supportive of the White House, wrote that his “address did not match the hype, was largely uninspiring, lacked strategic sweep and is unlikely to quiet his detractors, on the right or the left.”
Obama “provided little new insight into how he plans to lead in the next two years,” the Times wrote, “and many still doubt that he fully appreciates the leverage the United States has even in a changing world.”
The Times also continued its criticism of Obama on transparency on targeted killings and intelligence, saying his call for more transparency “was ludicrous” given the administration’s unwillingness to give “even minimal disclosures.”
The Wall Street Journal, far more accustomed to criticizing the president on foreign policy, said Obama’s speech was marked less by what he said and more by what he left out — the pivot to Asia, relations with Russia, a defense of the administration’s Syria policy, a discussion of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and other issues.
“We know that no foreign policy speech can cover the entire world,” the Journal concluded. “But listening to Mr. Obama trying to assemble a coherent foreign policy agenda from the record of the past five years was like watching Tom Hanks trying to survive in ‘Cast Away’: Whatever’s left from the wreckage will have to do.”
The Washington Post editorial said the president’s “binding of U.S. power places Mr. Obama at odds with every U.S. president since World War II.”
“President Obama has retrenched U.S. global engagement in a way that has shaken the confidence of many U.S. allies and encouraged some adversaries,” the board said, attacking the president for resorting to rhetoric instead of adjusting policy.
The Post also said that Obama provided “scant comfort” to those concerned about his policies on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.
U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
By Elliott Abrams
The Washington Post
At West Point today, President Obama marched out his army of straw men and continued his ungracious habit of taking credit for successful actions attributable to his predecessor. But at bottom, the policy he outlined will be of little comfort to our allies and to the cause of freedom in the world.
There were as many straw men as cadets. The president railed against “critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak” and insisted that “U.S. military action cannot be the only—or even primary—component of leadership.” He kindly informed us that “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.” He thanked himself for the decision “that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war” in Syria, as if anyone anywhere had suggested doing so.
Once again, the president caricatures the views of his critics rather than addressing them fairly—not much of a contribution to a good national debate over foreign policy. And on Syria, the new plan he announced—vaguely saying he’ll “work with Congress to ramp up support” for some Syrian rebels—is precisely the proposal that many members of his own Cabinet, and scores of analysts outside the administration, have been making for two years. He offered no explanation whatsoever for why he is now accepting advice he has been rejecting for all that time.
Mr. Obama began the speech by reminding us, as he always does, that he inherited two wars and “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.” If you thought he would also, to be fair, note his predecessor’s achievements, you were wrong. Discussing Africa, Mr. Obama said, “American assistance has made possible the prospect of an AIDS-free generation,” but could not bring himself to say who undertook that effort: George Bush. When it came to Iran, Mr. Obama said, “At the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.” This is not only ungracious but plain wrong: that coalition in the Security Council was built by the Bush administration, which won unanimous votes there repeatedly.
When it came to substance, the problem with the speech was that it was delivered in Year Five but gave no fair description of the five previous years. On Egypt, to take one example, Mr. Obama said, “We can and will persistently press for the reforms the Egyptian people have demanded.” Perhaps we can and perhaps we will, but why believe this after we have failed to do so for five years, instead cozying up to Mubarak, and then the SCAF, and then Morsi? “America’s support for democracy and human rights,” hailed by the president, has been very weak during his years in office—in Russia and China, in Iran and Egypt, in Venezuela and Cuba. America has not effectively challenged dictators, nor has it defended human rights activists and journalists when repressive regimes jailed them. “Engagement” with regimes has been the most important goal. To state now that support for human rights “goes beyond idealism—it’s a matter of national security” is nice, but if that is all true, where has he been since January 2009?
Mr. Obama did present a new approach to international security, however—well, not too new. We’re going to build “a network of partnerships” to fight terror. We’re going to train forces that will help us achieve this goal: “having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods” is the formula. Once upon a time this train-and-equip approach was known as the Nixon Doctrine. Today, it is very unclear who these nations are; Mr. Obama did not tell us. He spoke instead of “nations who provide peacekeepers” to the U.N. He also added that we would try to provide such support through the U.S. military, openly, rather than through the CIA, so that we could “explain our efforts clearly and publicly.” This is a very worthy goal, but it isn’t at all clear it can be achieved. Very often training—for example, of Syrian rebels—is done in countries that would rather keep the whole thing out of the news. The secrecy is at their behest, not ours, and Mr. Obama’s speech won’t change that.
At bottom, the speech was a labored defense of a foreign policy that has come under attack from left and right recently for being weak. Mr. Obama’s response was to say that the refusals to lead here or act there are all in the plan, and the refusals are called “multilateralism,” and anyway the alternative is constant invasions and wars and Iraqs and Afghanistans. Mr. Obama said early in the speech that “Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worry its neighbors.” Their nerves won’t be any better after listening to what he said at West Point.
Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle East policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, was deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush.
See The New York Times Reaction to President Obama’s West Point Speech:
“We will not rest until we achieve retribution for the blood and honor of the Muslims.”
EL-ARISH, Egypt May 4, 2014 (AP)
By ASHRAF SWEILAM Associated Press
An Egyptian militant group claimed responsibility Sunday for twin suicide bombings that targeted a military checkpoint and a tourist bus, killing at least one soldier and wounding nine in southern Sinai.
In a statement posted on militant websites, the al-Qaida-inspired group Champions of Jerusalem told the Egyptian army: “We will not rest until we achieve retribution for the blood and honor of the Muslims.”
The group has been behind the deadliest attacks against military and police installations in Egypt following the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last year. Another new group, known as Egypt’s Soldiers has claimed responsibility for several smaller bombings targeting individual officers.
Security officials fear the attacks on troops will intensify ahead of presidential elections scheduled for later this month. Retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former military chief who oversaw Morsi’s ouster, is the front-runner.
In a boost to el-Sissi, the ultraconservative Islamist Al-Nour party publicly endorsed him for presidency. In a statement published Sunday, the Salafi party said after meeting with el-Sissi and his opponent, leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, it decided to support the former military chief.
“He has a strategic vision that qualifies him to run the country. Things will work under him,” Younis Makhyoun, the party leader, told private television station CBC. “He has no intention to exclude anybody.”
Al-Nour party, formerly allied with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, came in second with nearly a quarter of the parliament seats in the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections. It later fell out with the Brotherhood, complaining that it was monopolizing power.
It was not clear if al-Nour can galvanize Islamists to support the former army chief. The party supported the military overthrow of Morsi, a move that has cost it support.
The Salafi movement is new to the political scene in Egypt. It previously shunned politics and holds an even more conservative and strict interpretation in Islam than the Brotherhood.
Friday witnessed a series of attacks in Cairo and southern Sinai, a tourist destination that has seen four suicide bombings since Morsi’s ouster, including one in February that killed three South Korean tourists. On Friday, a bomber blew himself up near a tourist bus carrying Egyptian workers in el-Tor, in southern Sinai, killing only himself and wounding four, security officials said. The Health Ministry initially said a civilian was killed.
It was not clear if the bomber was aiming to target foreign tourists or the Egyptian workers.
On the same day, another attacker blew himself up at an army checkpoint in el-Tor, killing a soldier and himself, and wounding five others, the officials said. Initially, a civilian also was believed to have been killed in the attack. In Cairo, a homemade bomb planted at a police post killed an officer, while a car used usually by military officers exploded, killing a civilian. No one claimed responsibility for these two attacks.
Also Sunday, security officials said masked gunmen killed a retired intelligence officer in el-Arish, the capital of northern Sinai, after he dropped his children at school. The retired officer was heading a local prominent charity organization, and the motive for his killing was not immediately clear.
The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.
A man pins pictures of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on a poster showing presidential hopeful Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, May 4, 2014. With only two people — former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi — vying for the country’s top post, the Egyptian election commission set the first round of voting for May 26 and 27, with results expected by June 5. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Mr. Sisi’s sole opponent in the election is Hamdeen Sabahi, a political veteran who came in third in the 2012 elections that put Mr. Morsi in power.
Given his comfortable lead, Mr. Sisi is expected to run a quiet campaign, avoiding confrontation with the scrappier Mr. Sabahi, who has repeatedly called for debates.
Former army chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is expected to win the election, which is scheduled for the end of May. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Threats on Mr. Sisi’s life from al Qaeda-linked militant groups and Islamists whom the military-backed interim government has branded terrorists may also limit his public appearances.
Taking to TwitterTWTR in Your ValueYour ChangeShort position early Saturday morning, the first official day of campaigning for polls to be held on May 26 and 27, Mr. Sisi urged Egyptians to unite for stability and security—issues expected to figure prominently in the contest. In a separate tweet, he promised to work hard and asked “everyone to assume responsibility with me.”
His campaign later posted a short YouTube video showing Mr. Sisi seated in a shirt and tie delivering a message of unity, stability and prosperity through hard work.
Mr. Sabahi began with a rally in Asyut, where he laid out plans for the development of Upper Egypt, a stretch of countryside south of Cairo along the Nile, according to a campaign spokesman. He presented his electoral agenda at a news conference last week, while Mr. Sisi outlined his campaign goals at a meeting with journalists on Saturday, emphasizing social justice and development projects to create jobs.
Mr. Sisi’s first campaign TV appearance, a prerecorded interview, is set to air on two local satellite stations on Monday evening.
Leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahi speaking during a news conference at the Socialist Popular Alliance Party headquarters in Egypt on April 26. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Mr. Sisi has won the endorsement of a long list of political parties, and on Saturday added the Salafist Nour Party, according to a party spokesman. The Nour Party had backed Mr. Morsi but turned on him in the lead-up to last year’s coup.
As the short election season begins, sporadic violence attributed largely to Islamists and militants has put voters on edge.
Five people died in bombings and clashes on Friday in Cairo, Alexandria and the Sinai Peninsula, where militancy has been rising since Mr. Morsi’s toppling.
The violence is in part a response to a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other political opponents of Mr. Sisi. More than 1,000 pro-Morsi protesters were killed after last year’s military coup, and Mr. Morsi and tens of thousands of his supporters have been rounded up and imprisoned.
A judge last week sentenced 683 Brotherhood members to death, the second such mass-trial verdict in as many months. In another trial, 102 Brotherhood supporters were sentenced on Saturday in Cairo to 10 years in jail on murder charges connected with a protest last July. The crackdown and death sentences threaten to fray relations with the U.S., long a key ally and source of military aid.
Security is the No. 1 election issue facing Egyptians, according to Mosaad El Shony, a 32-year-old media administrator at a nongovernment organization in Al Mahallah Al Kubra, a working-class Nile delta town. He said lawlessness was an problem in the countryside, and that a local car dealership had been torched a few days ago.
“There’s no police presence,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are scared to go out and go home early because they are afraid of crime.”
Egypt’s precarious economic situation looks sure to be another campaign flash point. The Egyptian pound lost value against the dollar at the fastest rate in 11 months in April, underscoring the country’s thin foreign-currency reserves, chronic government revenue shortfalls, dwindling tourism industry and problems with capital flight.
The government spends about a fifth of its budget subsidizing fuel, but has struggled to maintain supplies and keep the lights on during peak demand in summer months. Power cuts have led to unrest in the past.
While the campaign will give rise to much debate, Adel Mohamed, a 60-year-old shopkeeper who supports Mr. Sisi, said who is in charge doesn’t really matter as long as Egyptians’ basic needs are met.
“We want to live a dignified life with clean water, clean bread and proper medical care,” he said. “We want to feel as if we’re human beings. What we all care about is to live a dignified life, even if we get a belly-dancer to rule Egypt.”