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Islamic State militants launch coordinated assault on Egyptian forces

Islamic State militants and Egyptian troops clashed for hours in the Northern Sinai Peninsula. The lengthy battle began after the militants launched a massive, coordinated assault. Judy Woodruff learns more from Yara Bayoumy of Reuters.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Islamic State militants fought for hours with Egyptian government troops today in the Northern Sinai Peninsula. When it was over, 100 militants and more than 60 soldiers had reportedly been killed.

    The lengthy battle began after the Islamic State forces launched a massive coordinated assault on army and police positions.

    For more on this, I spoke with Reuters correspondent Yara Bayoumy in Cairo.

    Yara Bayoumy, thank you for talking with us.

    First of all, tell us what happened in the Northern Sinai.

  • YARA BAYOUMY, Reuters:

    Well, it started out really early this morning when we heard that there were a number of attacks on military checkpoints in North Sinai by a number of militants.

    That happens often, actually, because North Sinai is the epicenter of an insurgency here in Egypt. But it quickly escalated, and we saw that it was a very widespread, coordinated assault on a number of military checkpoints in Northern Sinai by militants. And actually Islamic State's Egypt's affiliate claimed responsibility for those attacks.

    We had security sources that did tell us that the intention of the militants was to basically lay siege to the town of Sheikh Zuweid, which is one of the most restive towns in North Sinai. And, of course, this is all part of the militants' broader campaign in their attacks against security forces and their ultimate aim of wanting or seeking to topple the Cairo government.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I read that this went on for hours and hours. How well-equipped, how prepared was the Egyptian military?

  • YARA BAYOUMY:

    Well, the Egyptian military has been fighting this insurgency for over — or about two years now. And it has actually intensified since the military ousted Islamic President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, after mass protests against him.

    So, the army has been very — very used to this kind of warfare, but, of course, the Egyptian army is a largely conventional army. And the enemy that it's confronting is largely an enemy that uses guerrilla warfare tactics in North Sinai, so ones that really largely depend on car bombs, IEDs.

    And, of course, we can't forget that these militants operate in areas that — some of which provide havens for them within the region. And so it's a very difficult enemy that they're confronting. In terms of how they have managed to do, this was, as I said, a very sustained — a very sustained attack or clash that happened today.

    Most of the times, the militants tend to launch attacks and then disappear or melt away into various neighborhoods within Northern Sinai, but, this time, it seems like they really did put up a fight.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, just quickly, these militants are an affiliate, an offshoot of Islamic State?

  • YARA BAYOUMY:

    Right. So they're called Sinai Province, and they have — you know, they have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

    And they very early on claimed responsibility for these attacks, saying that they have launched attacks on 15 military checkpoints. They carried out three — and there were three suicide bombings. The army said that they used car bombs as well. They did have anti-aircraft weaponry as well, so they did seem to have — they were very well-prepared for this assault that they launched today.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we're going to have to leave it there.

    Yara Bayoumy, thank you for joining us from Cairo. We appreciate it.

  • YARA BAYOUMY:

    Thank you.

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