Extremists loyal to the Islamic State in Egypt have attacked a naval patrol ship in the Mediterranean Sea, causing it to burst into flames.
The ISIS-linked “Sinai Province” terrorist group sank an Egyptian navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea near Gaza and Sinai. They claim to have fired a rocket at the ship, setting it on fire and sinking. Some news reports confirm this, but the Egyptian military says that there was only an exchange of gunfire that caused the ship to catch on fire.
The Egyptian military said earlier a coastguard vessel had exchanged shots with militants just two miles off the coast of northern Sinai, an area bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip.
There were no fatalities among the vessel’s crew in the shootout with the terrorists, according to a Facebook message posted by military spokesman, Brigadier General Mohammed Samir.
ISIS declared their presence on Sinai – a peninsula popular with British holidaymakers – last November when up to 2,000 members of the already established jihadi group Ansar Bait al-Maqdis swore allegiance to ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The attack comes just two weeks after Egypt said it was in a ‘state of war’ in northern Sinai, following July 1 when the same group conducted simultaneous coordinated terror attacks at 15 different locations in Sinai.
According to Egyptian officials, at least 300 militants launched that offensive, of whom 100 were killed.
The military said that 17 soldiers had been killed, but other reports put the death toll much higher.
The new attack appears to be a significant escalation by terrorists linked to the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh).
Eyewitnesses said a boat patrolling the Sinai coastline spotted a group of ISIS jihadis on the shore and engaged them.
At some point during the fire fight the vessel was struck by a rocket, causing it to burst into flames and withdraw from the battle.
The military said it suffered no casualties although it is understood several patrol workers suffered minor burn injuries.
An AFP photographer and a witness in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, just across the border, said the boat was struck at least two miles from shore.
Other navy boats came to rescue the crew as their vessel spewed a plume of smoke.
A witness, fisherman Abu Ibrahim Mohammed from the neighboring Gaza Strip, said the vessel was a gunboat that was about a nautical mile off the coast when it was struck by the rocket.
He did not hear the explosion but saw two smaller boats later trying to put out the fire and that a third, larger one later arrived and towed the burned vessel away.
Two speed boats were seen later combing the area as gunshots occasionally rang out, he added.
Authorities refused to officially confirm whether or not the vessel was hit by a rocket but said they are looking into both that possibility as well as theory that ISIS jihadis could have swam out to the patrol ship and placed explosives on it, which were later detonated by remote control.
In his Facebook message Samir did not say how much damage the vessel suffered and gave no details on the type of ship or the size of its crew.
The vessel, according to the security officials, routinely patrols Egyptian territorial waters and has frequently been used to transport army and police personnel to mainland Egypt.
The sea route avoids the overland journey through Sinai, where ISIS targets government forces.
Jihadis loyal to ISIS have killed scores of soldiers and policemen in the peninsula since the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The militants have also carried out attacks west of the Suez Canal, which separates the Sinai from the rest of Egypt.
Yesterday, the military said it foiled an attempted attack on a military post on a highway linking Cairo with the Red Sea coast.
The driver of a car that was carrying 1,100 pounds of dynamite refused to stop at a checkpoint, drawing fire from the troops, the military said.
The car then swerved off the road and the driver was killed, the military said in a statement.
Egypt faces threats from multiple insurgent factions, including the ISIS affiliate in Sinai, which the military says killed at least 17 soldiers in a July 1 assault there.
Officials from several branches of Egypt’s security forces previously said that that attack killed dozens more.
In another attack claimed by ISIS, Egypt’s state prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, was assassinated in Cairo by a car bomb in late June.