Sinai-based militant group “State of Sinai” claimed Sunday, in a statement circulated on affiliated social media accounts, the killing of Brigadier General Ahmed Askar, who was shot dead in Al-Arish Saturday evening.
“As part of the ‘hunting the apostates’ campaign, soldiers of the Islamic State were able to assassinate Askar, of the apostate police forces,” the group said in the statement.
The statement also said that the shooting of Askar took place in front of his house.
The Ministry of Interior said Sunday morning that Askar was shot by “unknown assailants” in Al-Khazan Street in Al-Arish. A representative from the ministry office could not confirm whether it was a targeted attack, or the result of random clashes.
The representative told Daily News Egypt that that the prosecution is investigating the incident and that security forces are intensifying efforts to arrest the perpetrators.
According to a resident in Al-Arish, the city has been witnessing intense security presence since Askar’s death. He told Daily News Egypt that the Masaed neighbourhood witnessed an explosion, which was followed by an exchange of fire and helicopter activity.
The spokesperson of the armed forces could not confirm the causalities in the mentioned bombing, but told Daily News Egypt that the major operation, “Retribution for the Martyr”, is containing insurgents in all “strategic directions” to restore order in Sinai and to counter all militant activities.
The Egyptian army has launched the operation two weeks ago, announcing daily statements of the results of the campaign, which so far has seen the death of over 200 militants and the arrest of others, as well as storming and controlling “terrorist dens”. Also, during the extensive military attacks, more than 10 army personnel were killed in action. Most of them received military funerals in their places of residence.
Moreover, on Saturday, the defence ministry announced that 74 militants were killed in clashes with the forces, and the arrest of another 52.
When asked whether these attacks might “mistakenly” target civilians, the representative from the armed forces said that most of the areas where clashes occur are free of residents, and that all raids are built on high quality intelligence that confirm the existence of militants in the targeted area.
A former officer in the military intelligence, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that raids in Sinai are done with very strict coordination with intelligence departments in the area, and with cooperation from tribal sources.
In response, “State of Sinai” has similarly been posting statements and pictorial content claiming counter attacks against the “Retribution for the Martyr” offensive. Named “The pious campaign to repel apostates”, the campaign included releasing picture of the results of ambushes allegedly targeting army tanks and vehicles.
The published pictures showed militants posing near destroyed vehicles allegedly belonging to the Egyptian army. “Soldiers of the Islamic State attacked cars of the apostate army,” the statement said. The photos also show militants shooting machine guns at army targets, a destroyed tank, and the back of a military vehicle stained with blood, as well as photos of militants on top of cars waving the black “Islamic State” flag.
Another part of the campaign is continuing the individual targeting of police officials. In addition to Askar’s killing, the group claimed the killing of a police General last Wednesday.
Another front which the group has always aimed for is the support of Sinai residents and tribes. A statement “from the Islamic State to Sinai tribes” was circulated online, with the group claiming that copies of the pamphlet were distributed to civilians in Sinai.
The pamphlet read that conspiracy attempts are occurring to affect the tribes’ “strength to embrace your sons from the State of Sinai Jihadists, who are defending your honour and who want to take you under the shade of Islamic Sharia [Law]”.
The pamphlet also referred to the “massacre of Khareza”, which was reported by state institutions or state-owned media. The incident included militants storming a wedding last week, killing the groom and 11 others. The pamphlet implied that the killings happened with cooperation between the army and the Israeli Mossad.
The statement ended by calling upon Sinai tribes to stand in solidarity with the militants and to avoid “collaborating with the Jews and the apostate army”.
Sinai has been seen the peak of the militant insurgency in Egypt since the military-backed ouster of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
In opposition circles, fingers are pointed at the army and the Mubarak’s interior minister Habib Al-Adly, accusing them of turning “civilians into militants” due to marginalisation and oppressive tactics. On the other hand, pro-government forces point to outside conspiracies by Israel and the Hamas movement for the rise of violence in the restive peninsula.