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Hotel suicide bombing in Egypt’s Sinai kills at least 3

Maamoun Youssef
Associated Press

Cairo — An elaborate militant attack, involving a suicide car bombing and claimed by Islamic State group, targeted a hotel in the restive north of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Tuesday, killing two policemen and a judge and wounding 12, the military said.

The statement said troops and policemen guarding the Swiss Inn hotel in the coastal city of El-Arish opened fire on an explosives-laden car as it approached the building, blowing it up before it reached the hotel. In the meantime, two militants slipped inside the hotel. One detonated an explosives vest in the hotel’s kitchen, while the second opened fire in a hotel room.

The military said all militants involved in the attack were killed, but gave no other details.

A statement by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, gave a higher death toll. It said that along with the judge and two policemen, a civilian was killed in the attack. The ministry said that two judges and eight policemen, including three officers were wounded.

There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the casualty tolls, which often happens in the aftermath of major attacks.

The Sinai branch of the extremist Islamic State group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted by sympathizers on social media accounts. It said the attack was carried out by two militants: the suicide car bomber and a gunman, who is alleged to have opened fire inside the hotel before blowing himself up.

The group also posted pictures of the two attackers and identified them as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer and Abu Wadhaa al-Muhajer. Al-Muhajer means migrant in Arabic and is used by militant groups to refer to foreign fighters, an indication that they were not from Egypt.

The group’s account did not mention the third attacker cited in the military statement, and IS offered no evidence to back up the claim. The authenticity of the claim could not be verified.

The attack took place the day after Egypt held the second round of parliamentary elections. Judges who supervised the vote in Sinai were staying in the heavily guarded hotel.

Volatile Sinai was shaken less than four weeks ago when a Russian passenger airliner crashed in the north of the peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard. Russia has said an explosive device placed onboard the Airbus 321-200 was to blame for the Oct. 31 crash, which took place 23 minutes after takeoff from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai.

The local IS branch claimed responsibility for the crash and posted a photo purportedly showing the bomb used to down the plane. The crash led Russia to suspend all flights to and from Egypt, while Britain suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh. The suspensions have dealt a severe blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry, deepening the country’s economic woes.

Egypt has been battling militants in Sinai for years, but their insurgency has gained steam since the ouster in 2013 of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president. His ouster by the military was led by then-defense minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who last year was elected president.