Army investigates Farafra Oasis attack amid allegations of IS involvement
Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and senior officials in Farafra martyrs' military funeral - YOUM7 (Archive)
By AMIRA EL-FEKKI

CAIRO: Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that a branch of the Islamic State (IS) could be operating in Egypt, saying they had claimed responsibility for the Farafra Oasis attacks in el-Wadi el-Gedid, and publishing a copy of an alleged IS statement on their website on July 22.

According to that statement, the group confirmed there was a mission targeting the security checkpoint near Farafra Oasis to get even with military forces for “arresting jihadists and torturing them in prisons.”

In the armed attack on the checkpoint near Farafra Oasis which took place on July 19, the ammunition storage room exploded after it was hit by RPJ firepower, causing the killing of 22 border guards and the injury of four others, military officials said on July 20.

“Two explosion-ready car bombs were discovered near the location of the attacks and were diffused,” military spokesperson Mohamed Samir Abdul Aziz said in a published statement on his official Facebook account on July 20.

On Wednesday, Abdul Aziz stated that early investigations regarding the attack of July 19’s early evening revealed that twenty people riding four four-wheel drive vehicles approached the border checkpoint; the gunmen carried sophisticated weapons including RPGs, snipers, Kalashnikov guns and automatic rifles.

As soon as spotted, security forces fired at the ‘terrorist’ gunmen before they reached the checkpoint, until the attackers shot at the gas cylinder inside the ammunition storage room, Abdul Aziz continued. Several assailants were killed in an exchange of fire between them and military forces.

According to the rest of Abdul Aziz’s statement, assailants used two of their cars to escape, leaving behind some weapons, the two remaining cars and the body of one of them who was killed in the process.

The story reported by Al-Masry Al-Youm, based on a statement on a twitter account allegedly affiliated with IS, and was similar to the Armed Forces’ report, with the exception of one difference: the Twitter statement read that “nobody left until it was made certain that all soldiers were dead.”

However, Al-Masry Al-Youm provided a different account of the confrontation. Member of the editorial board Ahmed Mahgope said on Al-Nahar TV channel on Tuesday that the newspaper’s correspondent met with senior military officials, including the chief of the Southern command.

“A black four-wheel drive car came near the checkpoint as gunmen began firing at soldiers. Then, one of the men riding the car got out and sneaked in and exploded a self-attached bomb among the battalion,” Mahgope stated.

“Several indications imply that IS was aiming for more than killing military forces. A one-minute video footage of the flag raising at the security checkpoint had they succeeded in doing so would have been enough for IS to claim the establishment of an Islamic state in Egypt,” Mahgope added.

The army decided to launch investigations into the incident by assigning a military team under the supervision of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Minister of Defense Sedky Sobhy, to collect information and testimonies from soldiers who survived the attack. The mission became known as “Operation Revenge 1.”

“Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab declared that there would be a fierce response to the attack. Indeed, Operation Revenge 1 has been ordered and its job is to capture the criminals, find out whom they are backed by and reach their main activity center,” strategic and military expert Sameh Seif al-Yazal told CBC Extra channel on July 20.

It is quite likely that the attackers are still present because of geographical constraints such as sand seas that characterize the Egyptian desert from the Libyan side, Yazal added.

According to several news sources, Sinai-based militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for “killing the border guard soldiers in el-Wadi el-Gedid.”

Early investigations and weapons left on the crime scene suggest the strike followed a careful tactic according to military officials and experts. News also reported that the flag of Al-Qaeda was seen flying on top of the cars.

Strategic expert Mahmoud Mohy el-Din also said the attack followed a “meticulous” plan in an interview with Al-Nahar TV channel on Tuesday, during which the show presented a computer-animated virtual crime scene reconstruction. The video showed that the checkpoint was seized, as two cars attacking the checkpoint from the front, and two other cars deploying armed men shooting soldiers from the back side.

Egyptian authorities are working with Libyan security bodies to collect information about members who joined militant groups operating in Libya recently, tracking people who travelled between the two states, in addition to analyzing security tapes’ footage of the Egyptian-Libyan borders in possession of Libyan authorities, Youm7 reported on Wednesday.

Farafra Oasis is located in el-Wadi el-Gedid in southern Egypt, close to the borders of southeastern Libya and northern Sudan. Farafra checkpoint was previously attacked in May, resulting in the killing of five soldiers and an officer.

Additional reporting by Mahmoud Abdel Rady.

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