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Terrorism & Security

Egypt airstrikes in Sinai kill 20 'terrorists' in reprisal for attacks on military posts

The Aug. 5 attack on a border post in the Sinai has spurred an Egyptian military crackdown on the growing militant activity in the Sinai peninsula, which poses a challenge to Egypt's new leader.

By Staff writer / August 8, 2012

In this photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 8, Egyptians ride a pick-up truck near the Kerem Shalom crossing, a zone where the Israeli, Egyptian, and Gaza borders intersect and where an Egyptian military vehicle that was seized by Islamist gunmen tried to storm the border into Israel on Sunday.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

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Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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The Egyptian military launched its first airstrikes in the Sinai peninsula in decades today, killing 20 “terrorists,” Egyptian state-run media reports.

The airstrikes along the Israeli-Egyptian border came after several Egyptian military checkpoints in the region were attacked overnight and three days after unknown gunmen attacked Egyptian border guards. The incidents have left Egypt lurching to contain the Sinai's growing lawlessness, which has been fostered by the upheaval of post-revolution Egypt and poses an important challenge for the country's new leadership. 

An unnamed Egyptian senior military official told Agence France-Presse that “20 terrorists were killed” in the village of Tumah, near the Gaza border, by Apache helicopter strikes. The military source said the operation was ongoing and other airstrikes have been reported in neighboring villages.

The attacks came the day after a military funeral for the 16 men who were killed by suspected militants on Aug. 5, when gunmen disguised as Bedouins staged an assault on a border post as guards stopped to break the Ramadan fast. The attack was the deadliest attack on Egyptian security forces on the peninsula since Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, according to Reuters. 

The border unrest and escalating reports of militant and criminal activity in the Sinai region are seen as a test for Egypt’s new president, its first Islamist head of state. The Washington Post reports:

Morsi is under heavy pressure to endorse a crushing crackdown on militants in the Sinai, but any missteps or abuses could trigger a backlash from Islamists, his main political base.

On Tuesday, Morsi stayed away from the military funeral for the 16 slain soldiers – a conspicuous absence for a leader whose thorny relationship with the military is being closely watched. Angry Egyptians heckled and tried to assault Prime Minister Hesham Kandil when he arrived for prayers before the funeral, prompting his security detail to whisk him out.

[W]hile Morsi’s victory in Egypt’s first free presidential election marked a watershed moment for Egyptian Islamists after decades of repression, it also set up a potential standoff between his government and religious extremists, who are willing to launch attacks against the state in order to further their own agenda.

“Those who carried out this crime will pay dearly,” Morsi said, according to the Guardian. “Clear orders have been given to our armed forces and police to chase and arrest those who carried out this assault on our children. The forces will impose full control over these areas of Sinai.”

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