After 31 soldiers were killed in bomb attacks, al-Sisi says “Muslim jihadists threaten Egypt’s very existence”

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi says the country is facing a threat to its existence from jihadists after the military suffered the biggest loss of life in decades in attacks in Sinai. At least 31 soldiers were killed in two attacks on Friday, the deadliest a bomb blast near the town of El-Arish.

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BBC  (h/t Colin W) A three-month state of emergency has been declared in parts of the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt’s Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip was closed. There will be three days of mourning.  In a live TV address, Mr Sisi said a huge plot was being waged against Egypt “by external forces”. 

“This is meant to break up Egypt and the Egyptians …. Egypt is fighting a war of existence.” No group has said it carried out the attacks, which came as the army continued an offensive against jihadists in northern Sinai.

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Militants have stepped up attacks since Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the army last year amid massive opposition protests. In the deadliest attack, 28 soldiers were killed and a similar number injured in a suicide bomb blast at a checkpoint near El-Arish, the main town in the north of the restive peninsula.  Three more soldiers died in a separate shooting at a checkpoint in the town itself. 

“The army and the police will take all necessary measures to tackle the dangers of terrorism and its financing, to preserve the security of the region… and protect the lives of citizens,” the statement said. Communications have been cut, and helicopters and special forces are now searching for militant hideouts, she adds.  In their continuing offensive in northern Sinai, security forces have recently killed and captured dozens of suspected members of jihadist groups.