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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.

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No group has taken credit for the attack.

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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 airstrikes today followed overnight clashes between armed men and Egyptian security forces at numerous checkpoints in the region, including Arish and neighboring Rafah, reports Reuters. One checkpoint has been targeted 28 times since the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak began, according to the state-funded Middle East News Agency.

Maj.-Gen. Amos Gilad, an Israeli defense ministry bureau chief, said the Egyptian military was determined to expunge terrorism in Sinai. “If they don’t remove and uproot [terrorism], it will continue to strike,” Mr. Gilad told Israel Radio today

But Mona Zamalot, an anti-militancy activist in the city of al-Arish, told the Washington Post she fears militants will move into the Sinai's towns if the government and military crackdown continues. “If the militants stay in the desert and mountains, they will fall,” she said. “They want to go into the cities.”

Ms. Zamalot said an Egyptian military official told her that the men believed to be behind the border post attack “want victory or martyrdom.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for Egypt’s efforts to strengthen security in the Sinai and State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the US was committed to improving counter-terror work in Egypt and ensuring Israel’s security. Mr. Ventrell added that those in the region would feel comforted when Egypt’s new Islamist government and neighboring countries fully establish working relations.

Daniel Nisman, an intelligence officer at a security company in Tel Aviv, wrote in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal that the US should start making its aid to Egypt conditional, based on Egypt's efforts to stamp out extremists inside its borders.

In the security vacuum that ensued since Hosni Mubarak's ousting, militant groups from Gaza and elsewhere swarmed into the Sinai Peninsula, quickly establishing a mini-Afghanistan on the Mediterranean. Amongst the sand dunes and jagged mountains, these militants found fertile breeding ground for their extremist ideology, quickly radicalizing the native Bedouin tribesmen who were long considered second-class citizens under the Mubarak dictatorship.

In the Sinai Peninsula, a strict counter-terrorism doctrine must be enforced upon Egypt, requiring the new leadership to provide tangible results in reigning in militancy within their borders. It would serve the Obama administration well to correct its approach toward post-revolution Egypt.

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