By Ali Omar
Eighteen suspected terrorists were arrested late Saturday in Egypt’s troubled North Sinai, while four men were arrested with explosive belts in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia just days before the constitutional referendum.
An army spokesperson reported that the 18 men arrested in the Sinai would be investigated; if they do not have ties to militants, or if they do not have warrants for their arrest, they will be released. The spokesperson added that they will face prosecution if it is deemed they are guilty of a crime.
The spokesperson did not comment on why they were arrested.
Four more were arrested in Ismailia, reportedly with explosive laden belts. It is unclear whether they were planning to use them in Ismailia or if they were on their way to another location ahead of the national referendum, slated to take place 14 and 15 January.
State-run news agency MENA reported earlier that a number of houses were also destroyed in northern Sinai; however, the military spokesperson could not confirm this. The news agency also listed the number of arrests in Sinai as seven.
Both arrests and bombings have become frequent occurrences in Sinai after the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July. Al-Qaeda inspired militants and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis have stepped up their campaigns against the Egyptian army and security forces in the desolate area.
Around 160,000 soldiers will be posted to Egypt’s 30,000 polling stations to secure the upcoming referendum, in which 54 million people are eligible to vote.