Tuesday 24 November 2015

EGYPT: Four Egyptians Killed In Attack On Sinai Hotel

Four people,a judge, a prosecutor, and two security personnel -- were killed on Tuesday and 14 were injured in North Sinai's restive city of Al-Arish during attacks on a hotel where judges supervising the ongoing parliamentary polls were residing.

The ISIS-affiliated militant group in North Sinai, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the attacks. The same group said earlier it had brought down the Russian airliner that killed all 224 on board over Sinai last month.

A suicide bomber was driving a car bomb into the hotel when security forces opened fire on him, causing the car to explode away from the Swiss Inn Hotel and the bomber to die, the military said in a statement.

Another attacker wearing an explosive belt later snuck into the hotel's kitchen and blew himself up, while a gunman went up to one of the hotel rooms and opened fire, killing a judge.

"One judge was among those killed and two civilians are among the injured. They were treated in Al-Arish public hospital, while 12 were transferred to a nearby military hospital," said Khaled Megahed, the health ministry spokesperson.

The Egyptian justice ministry later announced that prosecutor Amr Mostafa is among those who were killed. The army statement confirmed the attacks killed at least two police conscripts and injured other security forces.

Two suicide bombers and a gunman killed four people, including a judge, in an assault on Tuesday on a north Sinai hotel hosting judges overseeing Egypt's parliamentary polls, the government said.

The interior ministry said a judge, two policemen and a civilian were killed in the blasts at the Swiss Inn hotel in the town of El-Arish, the provincial capital of North Sinai where militants are waging an insurgency.

The first blast was triggered by a suicide car bomber followed by a militant who set off an explosive vest, the ministry said in a statement.

A third attacker sneaked inside a hotel room and shot dead the judge, the military said in a statement.

It said both bombers set off their explosives when police confronted them and traded shots with the attacker wearing the explosives vest.

Two judges, eight officers and conscripts and two civilians were wounded in the blasts, the interior ministry said. The military said 12 people had been wounded, including soldiers and policemen.

State television aired footage of shattered hotel windows and a charred limb, and car parts flung into a hotel terrace by the blast.

Egypt held its second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday and Monday, its first legislative vote since the military overthrew elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Morsi's ouster unleashed a deadly police crackdown on his followers, overseen by former military strongman Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Some Sinai militants have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers.

They have also claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian passenger plane after it left the south Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on 31 October, killing all 224 people on board.

Unlike the north of the peninsula, which has become a militant stronghold and is off limits to tourists, south Sinai is dotted with heavily secured Red Sea resorts.

"This brutal incident is a failed, desperate attempt to hinder the state," said army spokesman Mohamed Samir in the statement. "We emphasise that this incident will strengthen the persistence and determination of police and the armed forces to root out terrorism in North Sinai."

Ambulances rushed to the scene and gunshots could be heard following the explosion. A main coastal highway in the city has been shut down following the attack.

In a statement circulated by its supporters on Twitter, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis said the attack was revenge for the imprisonment of female Muslims by the "apostate" Egyptian army.

"A brother hit with his car bomb a security force guarding the Swiss Inn Hotel where 50 judges were staying only to be followed by a lion who broke into the judges' headquarters with his automatic weapon then blew up his explosive belt among them."

For years, Egypt has been fighting in North Sinai an Islamist militant insurgency, which spiked in 2013 following Islamist president Mohamed Morsi's ouster.

Over the past two years, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, some of which targeted judges in Al-Arish.

Islamist militants, who have primarily targeted security forces since the removal of Morsi, have in recent months targeted several judges amid the conviction of many Morsi supporters in terror-related cases.

Last June, Egypt's top prosecutor Hisham Barakat died from injuries sustained in a Cairo bomb attack.

In March, a small bomb was left in front of the house of judge Fathi Bayoumi, who investigated the corruption charges against Mubarak-era interior minister Habib El-Adly. The words "a gift for El-Adly's acquittal" were scribbled on a wall near the attack.

Two months earlier, a bomb attack targeting judge Khaled Mahgoub, who is representing the general prosecution in Morsi's jailbreak trial, caused damage to the windows and walls of his house.

The parliamentary elections, the second stage of which took place Sunday and Monday, were not marred by violence. Judges are currently supervising the counting of the votes.

Run-offs are due on December 1 and 2.

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