Islamic State's Egyptian branch claimed responsibility for a coordinated attack that killed five people in a hotel in North Sinai on Tuesday where judges overseeing a parliamentary election were staying. It's Islamic State in Egypt's deadliest attack since it took credit for downing a Russian airliner last month, killing all 224 people onboard.
On Tuesday, a militant tried to drive a car bomb into the Swiss Inn hotel in the provincial capital al-Arish before security forces opened fire, causing the car to explode, the military and a witness said. At the same time, a suicide bomber broke into the hotel restaurant and blew himself up, while a gunman entered the guest rooms area and killed a judge. Seventeen people were wounded, the Health Ministry reported.
Following the attack, the IS affiliate in the Sinai issued a claim of responsibility. "A brother... seeking martyrdom used a car bomb to attack the security force protecting the Swiss (Inn) hotel where 50 judges were staying, " the group said on Twitter. "Only to be followed by a lion... who broke into the judges' base with his automatic weapon... then blew up his explosive belt among them."
The judges had been overseeing the latest round of Egypt's parliamentary elections. According to Egypt's elections laws, polling stations must be monitored by members of the judiciary, and during election season judges often travel to remove areas of the peninsula to oversee elections in rural or remote areas.
Over the past year, IS has carried out similar attacks in the region as part of its bid to topple the Cairo government. The group killed three policeman in a suicide attack on a police officer's club earlier this month.
The Islamic State in Sinai said two of its members carried out the attack on Tuesday, as did the Interior Ministry. But the military and a witness said there were three militants. It was not immediately possible to clarify the contradiction.
Two judges and three policemen were killed, the military said, and three militants were killed.
The blasts followed Monday's second round of voting in Egypt's parliamentary election. Egyptian elections are monitored by the judiciary with judges running polling stations, observing the voting and counting ballots.
The Egyptian military condemned the attack on Tuesday. "This brutal incident is a failed attempt to hinder the state from building its institution but we assure all that it will increase the drive and insistence of the armed forces and the Interior Ministry to weed out the roots of terrorism in North Sinai," the military said in a statement circulated to media.
Reuters spoke with the Swiss Inn Manager Mohamed Mahana, who said he attack happened early in the morning and started with the car bomb.
"The security forces shot the suicide bomber and his car and his ties blew up," he said. "But he kept driving until he got to the hotel entrance then the explosion happened. It was huge."
Mahana also described the second suicide bomber, who he said, came in through the beach and into the hotel restaurant, breaking its window, before blowing himself. The restaurant was empty at the time Mahana said.
"A third attacker sneaked into the hotel through the side where the guest rooms are," he reported. "[He] shot passers by, killing one judge, before a security official shot him."