Wednesday, July 01, 2015

01-Jul-15: ISIS violence, terror and chaos rage on Israel's southern flank

Scene of the Cairo assassination of Egypt's state prosecutor
on Monday [Image Source]
Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has grown steadily more restive in the past two years. We have posted dozens of times during that period [see "Sinai"], tracking the crescendo of Arab-on-Arab violence and terrorism that has exacted a steady toll of lives in the desert as well as in Egypt's cities. Today, in Egypt and in its capital city, Egypt is at war.

Just two days ago, on Monday June 29, 2015, Hisham Barakat, who had served as Egypt's state prosecutor since July 2013, was killed when his secure motorcade was hit by a bomb blast in the capital Cairo [source: Aljazeera]. Barakat's appointment had come very soon after Egypt's military removed the country's elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi. In the course of the past two years, Barakat was responsible for a series of legal measures directed at reducing the power of the Islamists, including freezing the assets of 15 prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and ordering the arrest of the group's Supreme Leader leader, Mohamed Badie.

We showed Badie embracing Hamas arch-terrorist Khaled Meshaal back in January 2012. Badie was charged with inciting violence outside the Republican Guard headquarters where 51 people were killed.

Deposed president Morsi, along with hundreds of his supporters, have since been sentenced to death by Egypt's courts in a series of mass trials. Barakat also oversaw the court acquittal of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

There's some background to the events of the past few days. During May 2015, ISIS' Egyptian affiliate urged its followers
to attack judges, opening a new front in the world's most populous Arab state. Earlier in the same month, three judges were shot dead in the northern Sinai city of al-Arish... [Aljazeera
Then, right after Monday's assassination in Cairo, a visibly infuriated Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, publicly pledged to escalate the battle against the Islamic "militant" terrorists. An AFP report published yesterday captured some of the anger and rising threats:
"The arm of justice is chained by the law. We're not going to wait for this. We're going to amend the law to allow us to implement justice as soon as possible," Sisi said in a televised speech surrounded by Barakat's mourning relatives. "Do courts in these circumstances work? Do these laws work? They work with normal people," said Sisi, shaking a clenched fist for emphasis. Hundreds of policemen and soldiers have been killed since Morsi's ouster by militants based in the sparsely populated Sinai Peninsula... At least 1,400 people, most of them Morsi supporters, have been killed in a police crackdown on protests. Meanwhile, thousands of people, mostly Islamists but also including secular dissidents, have been jailed and hundreds sentenced to death. Morsi himself has been sentenced to death... Outside the mosque where the funeral was held, a crowd of 50 protesters chanted: "The people demand the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood." Inside, Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind, a recently appointed hardliner, told judges to avenge Barakat's killing. "The ball is now in the judges' court. Take your revenge using the law. Effective, swift law that doesn't take five years." Politicians and pro-Sisi media -- virtually all the channels and newspapers in Egypt -- have called for an even harsher crackdown on Morsi's Brotherhood and militants. ["Egypt's Sisi pledges tougher laws after prosecutor killing" | Agence France-Presse, June 30, 2015]
Instead, what they got today was one of the most dramatic of those Sinai days. It's an ongoing situation that is worrying at multiple levels. A brief Reuters report today ["Death toll in North Sinai militant attacks rises to 70: sources", July 01, 2015] summarizes the carnage.

Today's news reports suggest the Islamic "militant" terrorists mounted a cluster of simultaneous attacks on Egyptian army targets across the northern Sinai during the morning hours, producing a blood-bath.

Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, the ISIS affiliate in Egypt [click here for our previous posts about the havoc they have brought to the region] claimed responsibility for the attacks. Their version, not contradicted by anyone at this stage as far as we know, is that they hit some 15 army and police positions, and executed three human bomb attacks. Two of those targeted military checkpoints; one hit an officers' club in El-Arish.

A Times of Israel report says "the attackers on Wednesday used mortars, rocket-propelled grenades as well as assault rifles. Two of the checkpoints, which were apparently located in close proximity, were completely destroyed." Other reports say the terrorists succeeded in seizing Egyptian soldiers and are now holding them captive for what we presume will be barbaric purposes that have become sickeningly familiar. They also seized Egyptian army weapons and armoured vehicles.

Kerem Shalom Crossing: In April 2015, 523 laden trucks passed through
and crossed into the Gaza Strip each day, on average. It was shut down today
because of the nearby Arab-on-Arab carnage. [Image Source
Not surprisingly, the IDF has been "closely monitoring the border area with Egypt and Gaza in light of the events". Israel's Ministry of Defence took the decision some hours ago [source] to shut down Israel’s border crossing into the Gaza Strip and another into Egypt, with immediate effect:
Gates at the Kerem Shalom crossing were closed, cutting off the main conduit for goods transferred from Israel to Gaza by hundreds of trucks every day. In addition, the Nitzana border crossing, used by commercial traffic moving between Israel and Egypt via Sinai, was also closed. The Taba border crossing, used by pedestrian travelers visiting Egypt in the less-restive southern Sinai peninsula, was still open during the early afternoon. [Times of Israel, today]
Inside Egypt, there's considerable related violence underway this evening. Just in the past hour:
Egyptian security officials say special forces killed nine members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, including a former member of parliament, during a raid on a Cairo apartment... [source]

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