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Egyptian Army: Terror Plan Foiled in Sinai Peninsula

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

Egyptian security forces have foiled a militant attack on army installations in the Sinai Peninsula, a day after half a dozen policemen were killed by insurgents in the region, a military statement said.

A statement by the Egyptian army on Saturday said a group of insurgents breached a heavily-guarded army installation in the city of el-Arish in northern Sinai to carry out a “terrorist attack.”

The militants, disguised in Egyptian army uniforms, were armed with grenades and firearms and carrying explosive belts – used in suicide attacks – Tamer El-Refaie, a spokesperson for the Egyptian army, said in the statement.

Rafaie did not provide the number of militants killed in the attack. But at least one militant was killed after his explosive belt went off.

The attack came a day after six policemen were killed and another four wounded in a militant attack on a checkpoint in the outskirts of el-Arish.

Egypt has been battling an increasingly violent insurgency in parts of the northern Sinai, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel. The militant campaign accelerated after the Egyptian military overthrew elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

State of emergency extended

The country has been under months-long state of emergency. Last week, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi extended the state of emergency for another three months, which had already been extended once.

Several militant groups, including Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, are active in large swaths of the peninsula and frequently target police and security forces.

In July, Islamic State affiliates killed 23 Egyptian soldiers in a remote checkpoint in Sinai.

The volatile security situation in Sinai has also provided a fertile ground for the emergence of IS in the region. The group has also targeted local Coptic Christians in Sinai, causing more than 100 Christian families to flee from el-Arish.

Analysts say that IS and other militant groups capitalize on the Egyptian regime's alienating policies towards the local Bedouin tribes in Sinai. Locals accuse the government forces of indiscriminate bombing of their villages. Some militants hide among the local population and use locals as human shields.

Furthermore, Sinai is one of the most underdeveloped regions in Egypt and has largely been neglected by the central government in Cairo. Local tribes have repeatedly protested the harsh military actions and the poor economic situation with which they are faced.