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Egypt Launches Nationwide Counterterror Operation

FILE - An Egyptian military vehicle is seen on a highway in northern Sinai, Egypt, May 25, 2015.

The Egyptian military, including ground units, the air force, navy and police, launched a nationwide operation against terrorists Friday, focusing on the northern Sinai region, Egypt's Delta, and areas close to the Libyan border. Egyptian media report that strategic sectors of the country are on high alert.

Amateur video on Arab TV showed Egyptian Air Force planes targeting regions of the northern Sinai where intermittent insurgent attacks have kept the country's military on the defensive in recent years. A bloody attack on a mosque in the northern Sinai town of Bir al Abed in November left more than 300 worshipers dead. Other recent attacks have focused on the country's Christian minority and its security forces.

Egyptian military spokesman Tamer el-Rifai insisted the operation is focusing on areas of the country where terrorists have concentrated their attacks, including the northern and central Sinai, parts of Egypt's Delta region, and areas along the Libyan border.

He said the air force has hit terrorist targets in the Sinai, destroying arms caches, while navy units have tried to disrupt supply routes used by terrorists at sea. He added that ground units are stepping up operations to prevent infiltration of arms and men from across the country's border with Libya.

FILE - People stand outside Al Rawdah mosque, which was hit by a bomb attack, in Bir al Abed, Egypt, Nov. 25, 2017. The attack killed more than 300 people.
FILE - People stand outside Al Rawdah mosque, which was hit by a bomb attack, in Bir al Abed, Egypt, Nov. 25, 2017. The attack killed more than 300 people.

Military analyst Gen. Talaat Moussa told Egyptian TV that Egyptian security forces are "trying to break-up communications and supply lines between terrorist cells operating in Egyptian cities, in caves and desert hideouts, and with other terrorists in neighboring Libya."

Arab media reported that the Egyptian anti-terrorist operation coincides with a campaign launched by the Libyan military under eastern commander Gen. Khalifa Hafter against Islamic militants holding the coastal town of Derna, near the Egyptian border.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi repeatedly has accused regional powers, including Turkey and Qatar, of supporting Islamic militants and terrorists battling the Egyptian government. Both countries deny the charges.

Analyst Said Sadek told VOA, however, that a Tanzanian-flagged ship bound for Libya, called the Andromeda, carrying cargo it had loaded in Turkey, and which the Greek navy reported to include a cache of explosives, was seized by Greek naval vessels in January.

"Many of the terrorist incidents that happen in Egypt and many parts of the area also are motivated and orchestrated by foreign regional, rival powers. Remember, recently, a ship full of arms was caught [by the Greek navy] and it was going to deliver weapons to Islamist militias that are active in Libya, active in Tunisia, active in Egypt."

Dozens of people were killed or wounded Friday in a twin bombing at a mosque in Libya's large eastern port city of Benghazi. Islamic militants claiming ties to al-Qaida also carried out simultaneous suicide car-bomb attacks in Benghazi several weeks ago, which left more than 30 people dead.