At least 50 soldiers have been killed in Egypt's troubled northern Sinai Peninsula following a wave of near-simultaneous attacks by Islamic militants, according to Egyptian military and security officials.
The attacks, which took place on Wednesday, targeted at least six military checkpoints. According to an anonymous source, militants have also taken an unspecified number of soldiers captive and seized several armored vehicles. At least 55 other soldiers were reportedly wounded.
An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt has claimed responsibility for the attacks in a message posted on a Facebook page linked to the group. The message said that its fighters had targeted a total of 15 army and police positions — mainly in the city of Sheikh Zuweid — and staged three suicide bombings, two of which targeted checkpoints and one that hit an officers' club in the nearby town of el-Arish. The authenticity of the claim could not be immediately verified.
The coordinated morning assaults in Sinai came a day after Egypt's president pledged to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the country's state prosecutor was assassinated in the capital, Cairo.
Officials said a suicide car bombing destroyed one military checkpoint while another was first hit by mortar shells and rocket propelled grenades, then assaulted by militants.
Egypt's military spokesperson, Brigadier General Mohammed Samir, said in a statement posted on his official Facebook page that clashes between between militants and the armed forces were still taking place.
Samir's statement claims that more than 70 militants attacked five checkpoints in northern Sinai, and that Egyptian troops have killed 22 militants and destroyed three all-terrain vehicles fitted with anti-aircraft guns.
According to Middle East Eye, Israel has closed its border with Egypt in response to the attack, and North Sinai Governor Abdel Fattah Hrhor declared a state of emergency in the province.
Militants in northern Sinai, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, have battled security forces for years. Attacks, however, have stepped up following the July 2013 military ousting of ex-President Mohammed Morsi after days of mass street protests against his rule.
Wednesday's attacks came just two days after the assassination in Cairo of the country's top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, and just one day after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi vowed to step up a two-year crackdown on militants.
Today's incidents came in swift response to Sisi's pledge the previous day to carry out justice for the prosecutor general's assassination — and possibly move to execute Muslim Brotherhood leaders, an Islamist group from which Morsi hails.
Speaking on Tuesday at the funeral of Barakat, who led the prosecution and oversaw scores of cases against thousands of Islamists, Sisi signaled that he was prepared to take an even tougher campaign on the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed and was declared a terrorist organization on Christmas Day 2013.
Since Morsi's ouster Egypt has waged a crackdown involving thousands of arrests, mass convictions, and death sentences.
The Associated Press contributed to this report