CAIRO — At least 25 policemen were killed Monday when assailants ambushed two mini-buses carrying security personnel in Egypt's North Sinai Peninsula, which shares a border with Israel and the Gaza Strip and has been a restive center for militant activity.
The attack is among the deadliest in the peninsula since the 2011 overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak and part of a larger backlash against the state over what militants view as a slew of injustices.
"What I can say about the future is that violence will not disappear anytime soon," said Egypt expert Khalil Al-Anani. "We should expect a new cycle of violence — religious, political and social violence, and sectarian violence."
Nearly 900 died in four days of violence last week that began when security forces cleared two protest camps where thousands gathered to protest the July 3 overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi, who comes from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Clashes between anti-military protesters and security forces, street battles and retaliatory attacks on dozens of Christian sites and security posts have taken place since Wednesday.
Since Morsi's ouster militants staged almost daily attacks against security forces in the Sinai peninsula, where security forces and militants have long battled. Last week, a rocket hit the Israeli border town of Eilat, previously subject to other cross-border attacks.
Conflicting reports emerged over the cause of Monday's deaths. Security officials told the Associated Press that the 25 police were killed execution-style when militants ordered the two vehicles to stop, forced the men to lie on the ground and then shot them.
Officials first said the policemen were killed when militants fired rocket-propelled grenades on the two vehicles.
The Sinai is an arid stretch of mountainous and desert land that has grown increasingly lawless. Since police were pulled from the streets during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak the state has failed to regain control, giving militants in much of the north free reign. Residents set up informal sharia courts as society has proved increasingly detached from the central state, and visibly hardline Islamic.
Criminal activity thrives in the Sinai including a tunnel trade with the Gaza Strip and arms smuggling. Weapons flowed from Sudan and more recently Libya, including surface-to-air missiles. Many weapons have gone into Gaza while others have stayed in the peninsula.
Human trafficking has also been rife. Thousands of sub-Saharan African migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who were kidnapped in Ethiopia and Sudan, or willingly sought to go to Israel seeking a better life, have been held and tortured by Bedouin criminals for ransom. Countless of them died in the desert.