A brazen attack involving a suicide car bombing and claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group targeted a hotel in Egypt's restive northern Sinai region on Tuesday, killing seven people including two judges, the state MENA news agency said.
The attack on the Swiss Inn hotel in the coastal city of El-Arish was the latest violence convulsing the troubled peninsula, where Egyptian troops are struggling to put down an insurgency. ISIL's Sinai-based affiliate quickly claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack.
The assault came a day after Egypt held a second round of parliamentary elections. Judges who supervised the vote in Sinai were staying in the heavily guarded hotel.
MENA's report said that four policemen and a civilian were also among the seven killed, and that at least 10 people were wounded. The agency cited an unnamed security official as it often does.
MENA gave a higher death toll than the casualty tolls provided by the military and police in statements issued earlier in the day. The military said 12 people were wounded in the attack. It wasn’t immediately clear why the army didn’t update its tolls later Tuesday.
The attack began as Egyptian troops and policemen guarding the Swiss Inn opened fire on a suspicious, explosives-laden car approaching the building, blowing it up before it reached the hotel, the military said.
In the meantime, two attackers slipped inside the hotel. One detonated an explosive vest in the hotel's kitchen, while the second opened fire in a hotel room. The military said all perpetrators involved in the attack were killed, but no other details were given.
The Sinai branch of ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement apparently posted by sympathizers on social media accounts. It said the assault was carried out by two attackers: 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 some armed groups to refer to foreign fighters, an indication that they could have been from outside Egypt.
The group’s account didn’t mention the third attacker cited in the military statement, and ISIL offered no evidence to back up the claim. The authenticity of the claim couldn’t be verified.
Sinai was also shaken last month 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 occurred 23 minutes after takeoff from the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai.
The local ISIL 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 insurgents in Sinai for years, but the rebellion has gained steam since the ouster in 2013 of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president. His ejection by the military was led by then-Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who last year was elected president.