North Sinai and Egyptian media

Terrorist
attacks have shaken Egypt to mark the second anniversary of the military coup—or at least this
is what some claim. One wonders if it would have been any
different had Morsi remained in power, as @salamamoussa
points out in this tweet.

One reason it is doubtful
that the 3 July anniversary is the motive behind the attack are recent encouragements by ISIS to
intensify attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. ISIS was coming anyway—Morsi, Sisi or otherwise—and as we know their horrors are not
restricted to Egypt.

As the situation
continues to unfold, it is not the time to speculate about the ISIS affiliates' reasons for these fierce attacks. As usual (maybe even more than usual), rumors are flying around with beefed up images and
numbers. Seeing that the great people from reported.ly are busy with the Greek
Euro crisis, I decided to sum up a few of my findings.

What exactly
happened

Around 9:15 AM
CEST, I spotted a tweet by
SkyNewsArabia saying that thirty Egyptian Army personnel had been killed
and injured as North Sinai militants attacked Sheikh Zuweid. Muhamad Sabry, an Egyptian
photojournalist based in North Sinai, had reported this
earlier. This was alarming, as on 9 June, militants had already fired rockets at an airport
in Sinai used by international peacekeeping forces. If confirmed, yesterday morning’s attack in
Sinai would be the first major attack since January 2015,
when the ISIS affiliate there, Wilayat Sinai (formerly
known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis), launched terrorist attacks killing tens of
people.

The attacks were quickly described as
“gun fire” and “car bombing”. There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties for quite some time. The
Egyptian Army spokesperson first announced that
ten soldiers were dead or injured, and 22 assailants dead. According to the
Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram, there had been no official death toll
because ambulances had trouble reaching the injured and killed for fear of
getting caught in the crossfire. Then, things like this surfaced:

A suicide car bomb had exploded in a
military checkpoint in Abu Rifai, located near Sheikh Zuweid. Things
then escalated
quickly as multiple IEDs were reported along with militants besieging Sheikh
Zuweid’s police station and Egyptian F-16 army jets
started flying over the area. Meanwhile, Mohannad Sabry, a Cairo-based
freelance journalist, reported on events in Sheikh Zuweid:

According
to army officials, two checkpoints were completely destroyed, one by the
aforementioned suicide car bomb and the other by mortars and rocket-propelled
grenades. About
70 fighters simultaneously attacked these targets. A local news agency in
Sinai reported
that an Apache helicopter had been hit by militant fire and withdrawn (also reported by an
“IS fanboy” eyewitness). The terrorist militants had also planted landmines
on different streets in Sheikh Zuweid to prevent military
vehicles from advancing. Of course, in the midst of this it is the civilians who
suffer the most…

The terrorists’
goal is apparently
to have full control over Sheikh Zuweid and to “to eradicate the military’s
presence in Sinai”. The militants were said to have taken two military
tanks, but I was not able to confirm this. The second captured
military checkpoint was Abu Higag. Given the way the attack seems to have
unfolded — suicide
car bombs in multiple locations, RPGs on rooftops, IEDs and mobile weaponry
(including 4WD vehicles
with mounted machine guns) in various locations across a 60,000 inhabitant city —the assault is highly coordinated.

The violence spread to Al-Arish, North Sinai’s 'capital' city, and Rafah where
explosions were reported. Reports at 3:30 PM CEST indicate that at least 35
people had been killed in the on-going attacks. Israel closed the Nitzana and Kerem Shalom border crossings with Egypt. Some ISIS
fanboys were also cheering “we are coming for the Zionists” and “Sinai will be a
Jewish cemetery” (I would rather not link to the tweets, there's no need to give these
sick people more visibility).

And then,
around noon CEST, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack saying
that its militants had mounted 15 simultaneous attacks on military sites,
including “martyrdom operations” on Al-Arish’s officers club and two
checkpoints in Sheikh Zuweid “in a blessed invasion”:

The statement also highlights that “eleven checkpoints and a police
station in Sheikh Zuweid were attacked by militants using missiles”
.
A second statement was issued shortly after the first one, claiming that
Wilayat Sinai “had
besieged Sheikh Zuweid’s police station”
. Ahram Online
reported they had also “destroyed two military tanks and attacked four
checkpoints using mortar rounds”:


A local woman and her 15 year-old daughter were killed, and five
people from one family injured in the on-going clashes. People from Sheikh
Zuweid also reported
that militants were roaming the streets in vehicles with ISIS flags. Locals
having witnessed the attacks report:

There were reports about Egyptian
soldiers being taken hostage by militants, which I could not confirm. Policemen are
however trapped in a besieged police station. In addition to the scale and
coordination of the attack, what’s new is that Wilayat Sinai seems to aim to control land, not just raid the area.

From reactions on Twitter, with the Arabic hashtag for
#SheikhZuweid trending, the operation is also a huge propaganda win for
Wilayat Sinai and, vicariously, for ISIS. And if reports are accurate, the
militants have gotten hold of major arms caches and have taken soldiers as
prisoners.

Fake imagery
spreads as the situation evolves

Tabloid
Youm7 chose this awful moment to spread fake images of the attack:

They apparently decided that because people were reporting
about terrorists firing RPGs from a building’s roof, they should publish a
picture of a suspicious looking bearded man high up on a building. I checked it
out and three minutes later, these are the results I found:

Then, super conveniently, a video emerged entitled
“(VIDEO) Moment car bomb explodes in military post in North Sinai, Egypt”:

It was a fake: the video was
first released back in 2013. Egyptian outlet El-Balad had posted a screenshot
of it on 12 September 2013 describing it as a failed suicide car bomb
attack on a military checkpoint in Al-Arish, North Sinai. El-Balad added
that the car belonged to a bank and had been stolen three days prior to the
attack. Lastly, the video itself was apparently first published
by user ‘GlobalLeaks News’ on YouTube back in 2013.

And while we were all following conflicting reports over the exact
death toll, @JanusThe2 posted this:

Sigh. There are many occurrences of this image, as seen from Google
search, most of them from 12 November 2014:

Friendly warning: do not click on these links if you happen to
find them online. Images accompanying ones of IEDs are extremely graphic.

Youm7 strikes again, quoting Sky News Arabia on the “60 martyrs
from the [Egyptian] security forces” with this image:

This image is from a piece that listed the “30 Most
Powerful Private Security Companies in the World”, dated 11 January
2014. The image, ill-sourced back to a Russian website, is associated with a
PMC named the Northbridge Services Group.

It is also Masrawy’s turn to go through a swift
verification process. They posted this tweet on this piece:

 The image from the tweet is not one from today’s attack, although I could not find much on it:

The image Masrawy used in the news piece and which bears a
caption along the lines of “Security services impose curfew in Sheikh Zuweid”
is from 2013, if not before (as seen on this
Iranian website):

In Cairo, reports indicated
that Fast Reaction Forces and Central Security were deployed “in preparation
for any acts of violence”.

These are the reports that surfaced in the first half of 1 July
2015.

How will Egypt's forthcoming anti-terrorism legislation impact what looks like an escalation of violence? Difficult to say, especially with the glaring lack of independent media, which is misinforming and keeping the people of Egypt in the dark.

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