Islamic militants(IS) claimed responsibility for the attack on a remote Egyptian army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 23 soldiers in the region.
In the attack which began early in the morning, a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at a military compound in the village of el-Barth, southwest of the border town of Rafah. After that, dozens of masked militants arrived in 24 Land Cruiser SUVs and opened fire on the soldiers with machine guns.
Officials said the militants looted the checkpoint and fled with weapons and ammunition.
A number of militants were also killed in the shootout as some of their vehicles were left abandoned at the spot.
The suicide blast at the start of the attack likely disabled the checkpoint’s military communications system, prompting one of the officers to use his own cellphone to record an audio message and send it to a colleague via WhatsApp, seeking help and asking for prayers. The message was later widely circulated on social media.
“This might be the last seconds in my life,” a man’s voice calmly says in the recording. “Quickly, oh men, anyone who knows how to reach the command center, notify them to use artillery as we are still alive.”
He then praises God and ends by saying “we will either avenge them or die,” referring to his fallen colleagues.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the Egyptian army was preparing for an assault on IS positions in Sinai.
Egypt has for years battled militants in Sinai, where the jihadis have exploited the vast arid and underdeveloped region and its disgruntled Bedouin population as an ideal incubator for Islamic militancy even before the IS affiliate emerged at the forefront of the insurgency.
The checkpoint which was attacked was set up two months ago to cut a key militant supply line between the outskirts of Rafah, where the district is known to have a heavy IS presence, and central Sinai, where militants have found safe havens in the mountains, said a Sinai tribal leader Hassan Khalaf.
The security officials said some senior officers had expressed opposition to the location of the checkpoint, arguing that it provided no real cover for the troops.
In the past few months, IS focused its attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority and carried out at least four deadly attacks. As a result the Army Chief-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi declared emergency in the country.
The restive northern Sinai has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, after Islamic militants killed more than 30 soldiers in a single attack.
On July 1, 2015, IS carried series of attacks, killing over 50 soldiers in Sinai.
(With inputs from agencies)