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Egypt mourns death of 22 soldiers following militant attack

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National Defence Council discusses Egyptian-Libyan border security to avoid further crossing of militants and weapons

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued a presidential decree of general mourning throughout Egypt starting Sunday, after 22 Egyptian military personnel were killed on the Egyptian-Libyan border on Saturday night.

Egypt declared a state of emergency on its border with Sudan several hours after the attack, said state-owned Al-Ahram on Saturday.

Al-Sisi’s decree of mourning lasts until Tuesday night.

The National Defence Council, headed by the president, assembled Saturday night, resolving to “avenge” the “terrorist act”.

The council discussed the state of Egypt’s internal and border security, counter-terrorism strategies, and “efforts and steps to guarantee the stability of Egypt and protecting the rights and freedoms of its people”.

According to a security source, Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi stressed the importance of increasing security along the Egyptian-Libyan borders given the threat to Egypt’s national security. He said this comes in light of weak Libyan security measures that have led to the smuggling of weapons inside Egypt throughout the years, in addition to the “entrance of terrorists”.

The military, in cooperation with the interior ministry, is conducting a wide range surveillance of the area and the borders in search of the terrorists, he added.

One of the cars used in Saturday’s attack was stolen from a military guardsman during a previous attack on the same checkpoint, military prosecution investigations indicate. Six military personnel were killed on the 1 June attack, for which Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility.

The Saturday deaths fell in a fire-fight that broke out between a group of militants who attacked border guards with 4×4 jeeps loaded with heavy weapons near Al-Farafra Oasis. The shootout also resulted in the injury of five Egyptian military personnel and the death of “several terrorists”, said an armed forces spokesman in a statement on Saturday.

This came after the militants targeted an ammunition dump with an RPG, according to the military prosecution.

The investigations also indicated that the attack was planned, and that bullet and heavy weapon casings were found at the site.

According to a security source, the crossfire lasted 30 minutes and left four of the militants dead, whose bodies are being held by authorities. The military prosecutor said the deceased “do not appear to be Egyptian”.

Between 12 and 16 militants launched the assault, who are suspected to be from Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, and had Al-Qaeda flags raised, said the source.

The army retrieved two vehicles with weapons and ammunition, as well as explosives, which were defused. An “Al-Qaeda flag” was found in the vehicles, said the military prosecution.

It also sent reinforcements and ambulances to the site.

The army called the incident a “continued terrorist attempt to target the nation and hinder its path to stability and development”. A military funeral will be held for the deceased soldiers, it said.

A military source said that Egypt is looking to enhance cooperation with African and Arab neighbouring countries in counter-terrorism methods, “especially after the collapse of the Libyan system”. There are talks currently occurring between Egypt, Chad, Algeria and Tunisia, he said.

Prime Minster Ibrahim Mehleb, l Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil El-Araby, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam and Egypt’s Churches Board, which includes all five churches, all condemned the killings. The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights also issued a statement on Sunday condemning the attack.

The Al-Tayar Al-Sha’aby political coalition held the government responsible for the incident, and demanded more effective preventative measures against terrorism, “especially since similar incidents have been recurring the past few years”. It also demanded the arrest of the criminals and their appearance in court.

“Violence will not affect Egyptians’ unity… Egyptians will bypass it,” the coalition said in a Saturday statement in which it offered its condolences.

Al-Dostour Party offered condolences to the families of the killed military men, and in a Sunday statement called on authorities to arrest those responsible for the “cowardly criminal attack on soldiers carrying out their duty”.

The Saturday attack on the military is the deadliest since August 2012, when an attack on the Egyptian-Israeli border left 16 dead.

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Aya Nader

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