News Analysis: Sinai under spotlight as Egypt bids to quell terrorist attacks
(The Philippine Star) - October 26, 2014 - 11:00am

CAIRO (Xinhua) - The security situation in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in general and in North Sinai is "dangerous" but is still "under control" despite the ongoing anti-security terrorist attacks in the region, said Egyptian experts.

On Friday, a suicide bomber drove a car with tons of explosives into a large military checkpoint south of Sheikh Zuweid city in North Sinai, causing a massive blast that left at least 33 soldiers killed and many others injured. It is the largest terrorist attack in Sinai over the past four years.

"Despite yesterday's attack, the situation in Sinai is still under control of the armed and security forces," strategic and security expert Talaat Musallam reassured, admitting there are still some "weak points" in the security system in Sinai that led to the tragic attack.

In reaction to the attack, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi held late on Friday an emergency meeting with the National Defense Council comprising the country's top officials, and later announced a three-month curfew and state of emergency in North Sinai that accommodates less than half a million Egyptians, mostly Bedouins.

"The decision is a step in the right direction," Musallam told Xinhua, stressing that the armed forces and the national defense council are currently attempting to overcome the weaknesses in their security plans.

Like many security experts, the former armed forces general recommended the areas adjacent to the border line with Israel to be cleared of residents to minimize terrorist activities in the peninsula.

"The curfew imposed in North Sinai undoubtedly gives a larger space for security forces to extend control in the region," said Gamal Salama, head of political science department at Suez University.

Salama said among the challenges in Sinai are the smuggling tunnels between North Sinai border towns and the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the assistance of some extremist residents to terrorists by providing them with shelter, hiding places and sometimes weapons.

"That is why we demanded many times to evacuate border areas in North Sinai by at least 5-km distance from the borders," Salama said, noting this might be rejected by residents who benefit from smuggling tunnels "but the country's national security is more important than narrow personal interests."

After attending a military funeral for the victims of Friday's attack, Sisi vowed to continue fighting against terrorism as "the battle in Sinai is extended and it will not be over soon."

"When Sisi said that Sinai attack was funded by a foreign element, it means that there is proof of foreign involvement provided to the president," Salama continued.

For his part, security expert Adel al-Qalla recommended that the security forces should use "swift mobile patrols" instead of " fixed checkpoint" to limit anti-security terrorist attacks.

"Fixed checkpoints are easily targeted as we have seen, but mobile patrols could monitor the roads and comb the areas without being easily attacked," the retired armed forces general told Xinhua, appealing to the Interior Ministry to follow the same strategy and apply it all over the country, not only in Sinai.

Egypt has a US-brokered peace treaty with Israel since 1979 and there is security coordination between the two countries at the bordering areas near Sinai.

"Despite the treaty, the Egyptian armed forces should seize more control of all North Sinai and secure its borders with Gaza not only by civil police but also by military troops," Qalla suggested, recommending also the return of military trials to try arrested extremists on the spot.  

Sinai suffers poor infrastructure for decades. While some believe Sinai development is an integral part of eliminating terrorism, others see that there could be neither development nor investment in Sinai before eradicating terror first.

"Development of Sinai and the establishment of national projects, houses, factories and institutions in the peninsula will be one of the factors of combating terrorism," Qalla told Xinhua.

Anti-government attacks have risen in Sinai and extended to other parts across the country, including the capital Cairo, since the overthrow of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi by the military in July 2013 and the following massive security crackdown on his supporters that left around 1,000 killed and thousands more arrested.

Most of the attacks against security men and premises, which killed about 500 over the past year, are carried out by Sinai- based, al-Qaida-inspired Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group and its rising fellow Ajnad Misr.   

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