North Africa, West Asia

North Sinai and Egyptian media

Early on 1 July, an Islamic State affiliate started a massive and unprecedented attack in Egypt. Once again, the media is failing to verify the information it spreads.

Rayna Stamboliyska
2 July 2015

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.

Rayna Tweet

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:

Ibrahim tweet

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:

mohsabry tweet 1

mohsabry tweet 2

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”:

ISIS announcement

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”:

ISIS claim

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:

Wedady tweet

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:

Youm1 tweet 1

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:

R tweet2
R tweet 3

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

Fake video

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:

IED tweet

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

fake IEDs

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:

Youm7 tweet 2

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:

Masrawy tweet 1

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

Fake fighters

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):

Fake curfew

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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