At least four people were killed in a double blast outside a hotel hosting election judges in North Sinai early Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Defence’s statement.
The Ministry of Justice announced that Judge Omar Hammad and prosecutor Amr Mostafa were among those killed outside the Swiss Inn hotel and two other judges were injured in the blast. The army statement confirmed that two security personnel and a civilian were also killed, and 12 others sustained injuries.
The explosions took place a day after the end of the second phase of the parliamentary elections in Egypt, held on Sunday and Monday. State television reported the first blast took place at 7am then the second attack followed about 10 minutes later.
Security forces opened fire on a suicide bomber driving a car, causing the explosive vehicle to detonate before it reached the hotel and killed the bomber, according to the military statement. Amid the blast, two militants managed to escape, one of them detonated an explosive belt in the hotel’s kitchen, while the other opened fire, randomly killing Hammad.
The armed forces confirmed the death of all militants involved in the attack, vowing to pursue the “militant and terrorists” engaged in the planning of the attack. The armed forces described the attack as a “failed and desperate attempt” to hinder the building of state institutions.
“We assert that it will increase the persistence and determination of the armed forces and the Ministry of Interior to root out terrorism in North Sinai,” the statement read.
Judges were moved away from the area of the explosion to an unknown area while police forces closed off roads near the site and combed the area.
Board member of the Judges Club Ahmed Al-Ahwal said the attack in Al-Arish will not hold the judges back. “Judges are ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country. We will face [terrorism] strongly and decisively and we confirm that we follow our political leaders in fighting it,” he said.
While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, “Islamic State”- affiliated group “State of Sinai”, formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, has claimed responsibility for the majority of attacks in Sinai. Among these was the Russian plane crash over Sinai on 31 October, killing all 224 on board.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam issued a statement condemning the attacks and offered condolences to the victim’s families. He said terrorist groups are trying to destabilise the country’s security to disrupt the democratic process and the roadmap.
“Egyptians stand united in the face of violence and terrorism and will not give them the chance to achieve their despicable purposes,” the statement read.
Four were killed in two other separate attacks that took place in North Sinai on Monday. An improvised explosive device (IED) killed a policeman and injured two conscripts in North Sinai. Later that day, another bomb killed a woman and a child in the El-Jurah district of Al-Arish city.
Insurgents intensified attacks in North Sinai since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The governorate became the scene of clashes between militants and the Egyptian armed forces, who launched an intensified counter-insurgency campaign.
This was not the first attack targeting judges this year. On 16 May, four were killed, including three judges, on the Al-Arish-Rafah international road. Gunmen opened fire on the judges’ vehicle as they were on their way from Ismailia to attend a court session in Al-Arish. The attack took place a day after the Cairo court sentenced leading Muslim Brotherhood figures to death.
The Tuesday attacks targeting judges was expected, according to Zack Gold, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He referred to an audio statement in May, where IS-“State of Sinai” leader Abu Usama Al-Masri referred to judges as legitimate targets and called for more attacks on them.
“This [statement] was an expansion of Sinai jihadi targeting, which had previously focused on security forces and leaders,” Gold said.
The electoral process in Sinai was already tense following the assassination of Al-Nour Party candidate Mostafa Abdel Rahman, who was killed in Al-Arish in October. “This IS-Sinai operation was a direct attack on the electoral process,” Gold said.
Before the beginning of the first phase of elections in October, Minister of Justice Ahmed Al-Zind said judges supervising the elections would be under direct protection of security forces. He also said judges would be granted life insurance policies.
The security procedures applied during the elections were exceptionally strong, which undermined the possibility of an attack, member of Nasserist Al-Karama Party in North Sinai, Sheikh Khaled Arafat, told Daily News Egypt.
“We cannot say it is a dereliction of duty but maybe they were not paying attention and slacked off since it happened early at 7am,” Arafat said.
Despite the attack, the vote-counting process continued in North Sinai. Ibrahim Mohamed Abu Sheira won a seat in the Sheikh Zuweid district and Hegazy Saeed secured the seat of Central Sinai. The province’s three other seats will be contested in the runoff round, scheduled for 1 and 2 December.