Seven policemen and an officer were killed and three others were wounded in an attack by Islamist militants on a security checkpoint in Egypt’s New Valley governorate in the Western Desert on Monday night, the Interior Ministry said this week.
The attack occurred at 8:15pm and targeted the Al-Naqb checkpoint 80km from the New Valley’s capital of Al-Kharga and about 600km southwest of Cairo.
According to the Interior Ministry, two of the militants were killed during an exchange of fire, while the remaining ones are being pursued. The security and Armed Forces are intensifying their presence in the vicinity of the checkpoint and are combing the area in search of the fled militants.
Though the attack has yet to be claimed by any group, it has the hallmarks of the Islamic State (IS) branch in North Sinai, formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.
According to a security source, the attack was performed by four-wheel cars that came in from the desert. “The attackers began shooting at the checkpoint from a distance. The exchange of fire lasted for ten minutes,” the source said. They afterwards threw bombs and fired heavy weapons, he added.
New Valley MP Tamer Abdel-Kader condemned the attack and mourned “the martyrs in the tragic incident.” He stressed that such terrorist acts would “not undermine the unity of the homeland and its citizens, but rather will increase the refusal of Egyptian society of such terrorist and extremist groups.”
“The perpetrators of this incident are criminals who must be arrested and brought to trial,” the MP said, calling for further precautionary measures to be taken to counter terrorist operations.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail denounced the terrorist attack and offered his condolences to the families of those who had been killed or injured.
“The country will continue its war against terrorism and destructive extremist ideology,” Ismail said, stressing that such cowardly acts would not succeed in undermining Egypt’s unity.
Since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 Egypt has been fighting an Islamist insurgency led by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis during which hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed, mainly in North Sinai.
Though Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis is at the forefront of the militant groups launching the attacks on security targets, other smaller groups have also emerged and claimed responsibility for minor attacks.
Terrorist attacks in the Western Desert are rare, with the last operation targeting the governorate taking place in July 2014 when militants fired machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades killing 21 soldiers in an attack on a border checkpoint in the Farafra Oasis.
“Terrorist attacks that target fixed checkpoints have become more frequent and take different forms,” security expert Magdi Shehata said in a televised interview. “This has meant a reconsideration of the fixed checkpoints as they have become targets for terrorist groups.”
He called on the Interior Ministry to equip the checkpoints with more advanced weapons and to surround them with fences, watchtowers and surveillance cameras in order to monitor any movement by militants.
Last week, the Sinai Peninsula saw three terrorist attacks targeting police checkpoints, two of them in Al-Masaid west of Arish. At least 13 members of the security forces were killed in the attacks.