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Suicide attack on North Sinai bus station foiled, as IS beheads four civilians

A suicide attacker was shot dead after the army learned of his plans through civilians
The foiled attack came hours after IS announced that its fighters decapitated four men it accused of spying for the government (AFP)

A suicide bomber was thwarted from detonating his device at a busy bus station in North Sinai after civilians spotted him and informed the army.

The attacker managed to detonate his device, killing one soldier, according to a statement by Egypt's military spokesman, which was posted on Facebook. The armed forces shot him before he reached his target. 

Egypt's military spokesperson confirmed the successful elimination of the attacker "as a result of the alertness of security forces". 

The attack in Sheikh Zuweid came hours after IS claimed responsibility for the decapitation of four civilians it described as "spies" for the Egyptian government.

North Sinai has been the arena of a years-long battle waged by Egypt's armed forces against networks of resilient militants who have taken root in the region.

Fighters belonging to local branches of the Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda have carried out countless attacks against state forces and officials, killing hundreds.

However, the IS-affiliated Sinai Province has increasingly been targeting civilians, whom it accuses of assisting or backing the military-led government and its forces. This has included Christians, tourists, and, more recently, local tribesmen and residents, including lawyers. 

The continued attacks despite military operations in the area have eroded the army's credibility among many of its supporters, with some questioning the efficiency of its security strategies.

A Facebook page named "Sinai Tribes Union," which describes itself as a provider of logistical support for the military's counterterrorism campaign in North Sinai, published a post about the attack earlier on Thursday, emphasising the locals' role in foiling the attack.

Translation: A terrorist attempted to blow himself up in Sheikh Zuweid (bus) stop, and the attack was foiled after a tip about the presence of a strange individual in the area, which triggered a comprehensive preparedness for a surprise attack. Thank you, people of Sinai, you saved our soldiers.

The corpses of the four men, whose heads were resting on their bodies, were abandoned by a road after the men were kidnapped east of Bir el-Abd city in the north of Sinai.

The militant group set up an ambush through which it checked passing civilians and slaughtered the victims after identifying them. 

More evacuations?

Earlier this week, Egyptian media outlets reported that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had issued a decree that was published in the official gazette, transferring the development of al-Arish Port and its surrounding land to the responsibility of the armed forces. The total area is about 156 square kilometres.

The decision raised fears, mostly among North Sinai residents, of a fresh round of displacements that have already hit hundreds of families since the spike in an insurgency that began in 2013.

Translation: Sisi destroys what is left of North Sinai, and the destruction has reached al-Arish in a brazen manner. The confiscation of 156 square kilometres surrounding al-Arish Port under the guise of development and public utility and transferring its control over to the army. It is a systematic policy to vacate Sinai! It's as if the area of Egypt which exceeds 2 million square kilometres is not enough land for the army! Coincides with Jared Kushner's deal.

In May 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that the Egyptian government has carried out largely unlawful destruction of at least 3,000 homes and commercial buildings, hundreds of hectares of farmland, and 600 buildings in one round during evictions that began in 2014. 

According to the organisation, these clearances were well beyond two government-set buffer zones that it had said would be vacated to support its war against terror.