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Sixteen Egyptian soldiers are dead after unidentified jihadists carried out a terrorist attack in the Sinai Peninsula, striking at the only institution standing in the way of an Islamist takeover of Egypt. The assailants were stopped as they entered Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood predictably accused Israeli intelligence of being responsible for the massacre, but all indications point to Al-Qaeda-type jihadists.
The operation began when about 35 terrorists traveling in three vehicles attacked an Egyptian military outpost, killing the 16 soldiers. They then went into Israel with bomb belts strapped to their waists and an armored car carrying about half a ton of explosives. The Israelis, who received a tip devoid of any actionable details over the weekend, launched three strikes, destroying the vehicle and six or seven terrorists. The rest escaped. It is thought that the terrorists wanted to kidnap an Israeli soldier.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas condemned the attacks, with Egyptian President Morsi declaring three days of mourning. Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are paying a heavy price. The Israelis were forced to close the only access route to Gaza, the Egyptians had to close the Rafah crossing point and Hamas closed down the underground tunnels used for smuggling.
Egyptian officials think the terrorists worked with colleagues in the Gaza Strip, though Hamas is not believed to have had a hand in these attacks. In June, an Israeli soldier was killed by terrorists operating in the Sinai. A group calling themselves “Magles Shoura al-Mujahaddin” said the attack was in honor of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the chief of Al-Qaeda.
Sunday’s attack is being compared to one that took place on August 18 that killed eight Israelis. The U.S. believes Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula carried it out with help from the Popular Resistance Committees based in Gaza and Jaish al-Islam, another Al-Qaeda affiliate. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula declared its four goals after the attack took place: To institute Sharia Law in the Sinai Peninsula, force an end to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, cause Egypt to wage war on Israel and to end the unfair treatment of the Bedouins.
If Al-Qaeda is responsible, the timing is embarrassing for Hamas. On Thursday, Hamas released Abu al-Waleed al-Maqdissi after imprisoning him for 17 months. He was the leader of Tawhid and Jihad, an Al-Qaeda affiliate. He first joined Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2003.
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