Egypt: Senior officer, three pro-government militia allies killed in North Sinai
An IED blast claimed the lives of a senior officer and three members of a Bedouin pro-government militia on Sunday, in the latest attack on security forces in the restive North Sinai.
Militants belonging to the Islamic State group remain active in the Gelbana village which is close to the Suez Canal and 480km from this year’s Cop27 UN summit at Sharm El-Sheikh.
A security source told Middle East Eye that the senior officer was Lieutenant Colonel Assem Mohamed Essameldin, head of the 103rd Thunderbolt Battalion, one of the Egyptian army's most renowned units, who died on site after sustaining critical injuries.
Essameldin was a SEAL special forces officer and part of the elite 999 counterterrorism unit. He is the third leader of the 103rd Thunderbolt Battalion to be killed, following Colonel Rami Hassanein who was killed in 2016 and Colonel Ahmed Mansi, who was killed in 2017.
Neither Egyptian media nor the military reported on the incident.
The security source declined to give detail about the incident, but a tribal source told Middle East Eye that the four were killed while combing a village for explosive devices and mines before the residents returned to it.
The three tribal militiamen - whom the tribal source referred to as "martyrs" - were Tawfik Shaheen from the Rebaya tribe, Amer Emira from the Amareen tribe, and Hussein Salem from the Marazqa tribe.
The three are part of the Bir Al-Abd Union militia which is an umbrella of several tribes that collaborate with military intelligence and police forces to hunt down Islamist militants.
A massive funeral attended by dozens was organised on Sunday night.
Ongoing militant attacks
IEDs are a common strategy for militants in North Sinai to target military and police personnel. In the last four years, militants have also been targeting pro-government militia members.
Since 2017, when Sinai tribes began arming and working closely with the military to defeat IS, paramilitary groups have been involved in ambushes and raids against militants, as well as gathering intelligence.
As world leaders and international guests arrive in the heavily secured South Sinai, North Sinai continues to be a war zone in Egypt with no access to civil society or independent journalism.
North Sinai residents have borne the brunt of the eight-year-long campaign in the region between Egypt's armed forces and Sinai Province, the local branch of IS.
Militants first began staging attacks in 2011 when they were still associated with al-Qaeda.
Later, they pledged loyalty to IS, and began to be known as Sinai Province.