Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday that “foreign support was offered to carry out the operation” in Sinai which left at least 34 security personnel killed on Friday.
Sisi addressed the nation in a speech aired on state television on Saturday, hours after declaring a state of emergency in parts of the Sinai Peninsula in response to Friday’s deadly attack.
“This [attack] was carried out to … break the Egyptian armed forces’ will, since the armed forces is the state’s pillar,” Sisi said. The president added that such attacks were foreseen by the armed forces before the military ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3, 2013.
All of the soldiers killed on Friday were in their twenties, with the oldest aged 24. The majority of the soldiers were aged 21. Friday’s attack raised the death toll of Egyptian soldiers this week to 41.
Egypt’s security forces have intensified their security measures in North Sinai in reaction to repeated militant attacks that target army and police officials, which rose significantly since Mursi’s ouster last year. The attacks soon expanded to other areas of the country, including the capital.
A fact-sheet prepared by Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs put the death toll for terrorism acts which took place since January 2011 and until April 2014 at 971, including 664 security personnel. The number of casualties significantly rose since then.
Sisi urged “all Egyptians” to “beware of what is being plotted against us.” He added that Egyptians must be “aware of the dimensions of the big conspiracy” woven against the state.
The president warned that “the real threat” is allowing “someone to come between the Egyptian people, the state institutions and the army.”
“We are steadfast and moving in one direction; restoring Egypt to its position,” Sisi said. “This is not easy. It requires patience. There will be suffering, pain and blood. We will all pay [this price] for our country.”
Thirty military personnel were killed in a suicide blast which targeted a security checkpoint in Sinai’s Sheikh Zuweid on Friday, security sources told Reuters. The explosion also caused damage to two military vehicles.
Shortly afterwards, a separate attack by unidentified gunmen on a security checkpoint in al-Arish killed three more security personnel.
Sisi offered his condolences over the killed security personnel.
“I do not offer my condolences to the families of those killed,” he said,” but to all of us Egyptians. Egypt’s sons have fallen for Egypt to remain [standing]. Egypt will, God willingly, remain [standing].”
Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is convening on Saturday afternoon with leaders from the Police Authority to coordinate efforts to “combat all forms of terrorism,” SCAF announced.
The council met early Saturday to discuss means of implementing a state of emergency declared in parts of the Sinai Peninsula in response to the terrorist attacks.
Sisi, who headed the SCAF meeting, issued a presidential decree on Friday night declaring a three-month state of emergency in parts of Sinai.
Sisi also declared a night curfew in the said regions for the next three months. The curfew stretches from 5 pm until 7 am.
During Saturday’s address, Sisi noted that the “outcome” of the work done in the Peninsula during the past months is “huge”.
“Every day, tens of terrorists fall as casualties [in Sinai],” Sisi said. “We have eliminated hundreds of terrorists.”
The president said that Sinai would have become “a terrorism and extremism bloc” if it hadn’t been for the military’s operations. He added that the “battle” in Sinai is “extended” and that it will not end in a month or two.
“Egypt is leading an existential war [on terrorism],” Sisi said.
Egypt closed the Rafah border-crossing on Saturday following the attacks, reported state-run news agency MENA.
Sisi mandated the cabinet to swiftly take “the necessary measures to secure civilians residing in the regions” outlined in the decree declaring the state of emergency, reported MENA.
The cabinet is holding an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the attacks.
The perpetrators of Friday’s attacks are yet to be identified. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, a jihadist group based in Sinai, previously claimed responsibility for several attacks against Egypt’s security forces after Mursi’s ouster in July 2013, including an attempt in September, 2013 to assassinate the interior minister as well as several attacks targeting security headquarters and convoys.