Egyptian army kills 18 in Sinai airstrikes amid accusations of extrajudicial
March 19, 2017 12:00 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2017 7:07 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Egyptian air force conducted air strikes in recent
days in the northern Sinai Peninsula that left at least 18 suspected
militants killed, according to the Egyptian army, days after Human Rights
Watch accused Egyptian forces of committing possible extrajudicial
executions and forced disappearances in the region under the guise of
An Egyptian army spokesperson said in a statement Saturday evening that
airstrikes launched in al-Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid had targeted homes
and vehicles allegedly used by "18 extremely dangerous takfiris
The spokesman neither specified the dates on which the airstrikes were
carried out nor the identity or affiliation of those killed in northern
Sinai, where the Egyptian branch of the so-called Islamic State, known as
the Sinai Province, is operating.
“The air force is continuing to support law-enforcement forces in northern
Sinai to target dens and vehicles of terrorist operatives, as well as
carrying out aerial reconnaissance,” the statement said.
A video of the airstrikes was released along with the statement, which was
posted on Facebook.
Fighting between the Egyptian government and the Sinai Province has
escalated since Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi took power from
Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, which has since left
hundreds killed -- including civilians, security forces, and alleged
The Egyptian president came under attack following his violent suppression
of Muslim Brotherhood members following his rise to power, which al-Sisi has
argued is necessary to deter future attacks in the Sinai and across Egypt.
The alleged killing of the 18 militants came after Human Rights Watch (HRW)
released a report on Thursday, saying that Egyptian internal security forces
“may have extrajudicially executed at least four and perhaps as many as 10
men,” during a deadly raid on Jan. 13.
Egyptian authorities said at the time that the men were targeting for
participating in killings and other attacks on security forces, and named
six of the slain men, but did not identify the other four.
Investigations conducted by HRW indicated that Egyptian security forces “may
have arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared the men and then staged a
counterterrorism raid to cover up the killings.”
HRW cited an edited video released by Egyptian authorities purporting to
show the raid, which experts said was proof the incident had been staged.
Relatives of three of the dead men and a lawyer who is representing two of
the families all told HRW that Egyptian security forces had arrested the men
without warrants in October and November 2016, months before the alleged
January raid took place.
Meanwhile, a representative of a local human rights organization reportedly
said in the wake of the raid that the names of the six slain men had
appeared on a list of 650 people allegedly being held without charge in
Relatives also told HRW that they felt too intimidated by security forces to
complain or pursue legal redress, had been contacted by Interior Ministry
officials to drop their efforts, and that in February and March, police
arrested a number of the slain men’s relatives to pressure their families to
drop the issue.
“These apparent extrajudicial killings reveal total impunity for Egypt’s
security forces in the Sinai Peninsula under President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s
counterterrorism policies,” the report quoted Joe Stork, deputy Middle East
and North Africa director at HRW, as saying.
“Prosecutors need to conduct a full and transparent investigation to get to
the bottom of what appear to be grave abuses.”
HRW said the killings appeared to fit a pattern of abuses against Egyptian
civilians by both military and internal security forces who are fighting the
Islamic State. HRW has also previously reported that the Egyptian government
does not acknowledge civilian deaths in the Sinai.
The group meanwhile highlighted that journalists and human rights groups are
rarely able to investigate frequent and credible reports of abuse because
the government denies them access to the region.
The January killings sparked rare protests in al-Arish against the Egyptian
Interior Ministry during some of the men’s funerals.
Local leaders have have since demanded the immediate release of anyone held
without charge, the resignation of North Sinai’s representatives in
parliament, holding to account those responsible for the killings, and
called for the creation of a government fact-finding committee to
investigate the incident.