Islamic militants have unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks on Egyptian army checkpoints in the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 38 soldiers.
The co-ordinated morning assaults came a day after Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi pledged to step up the battle against militants and two days after the state prosecutor was assassinated in Cairo.
The scope and intensity of the attacks underscored the resilience and advanced planning by the militants who have for years battled Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai but intensified their insurgency over the past two years.
An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying its fighters targeted a total of 15 army and police positions and staged three suicide bombings, two of which targeted checkpoints and one that hit an officers’ club in the nearby city of el-Arish.
The authenticity of the claim could not be immediately verified but it was posted on a Facebook page associated with the group.
Except for the attack at the officers’ club, the rest took place in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and targeted at least six military checkpoints, officials said.
The militants also took soldiers captive and seized weapons and several armoured vehicles, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
At least 54 other soldiers were wounded, the officials said.
As fighting raged, an army Apache gunship destroyed one of the armoured carriers captured by the militants as they were driving it away, the officials added.
Egypt’s military spokesman, Brig Gen Mohammed Samir, said clashes were still under way in the area between the armed forces and the militants.
The officials said scores of militants were besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s main police station, shelling it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and exchanging fire with dozens of policemen inside.
Last week, Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called in an audio message on IS followers to launch massive attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which is now entering its third week.