Thirty-five assailants were involved in the attack late Sunday near the Israeli border that left 16 Egyptian security officers dead, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said Monday in a statement read by state TV. The council added that it considers the attackers “enemies” of Egypt.
The military earlier vowed to seek quick revenge for the deaths.
“We swear in the name of God to avenge them,” said the administrator of the SCAF’s Facebook page. “We are not weak or timid, but those with spoiled minds who still live in the old ages do not seem to understand.”
“Egyptians will not have to wait long before they see a reaction to this attack by terrorists,” the statement added. “Anyone liaising with these groups that have attacked our troops in the Sinai in recent months will pay dearly, be it inside Egypt or abroad.”
The post described attackers as “faithless infidels,” and pledged to get retribution against whoever had attacked the armed forces in Sinai over the past months, as well as those who have links to them inside or outside Egypt.
A search is still undergoing for the perpetrators, whom Israeli and Egyptian authorities believe to belong to extreme Islamist groups in Sinai. The bodies of the victims were transported Monday morning to Almaza military base in Cairo.
Meanwhile, the three officers injured in the attack were transported late Sunday to Cairo, said Ahmed al-Ansary, deputy director of ambulance services.
State news agency MENA quoted Ansary as saying that the injured security personnel were shot in their heads, chests, arms and thighs.
The Sunday attack had sparked criticism of Egyptian authorities’ reaction to the incident from politicians and activists. The SCAF was criticized for passivity after the death of six security officers in an Israeli air raid on the border last August.
President Mohamed Morsy vowed late on Sunday to boost Egypt’s security presence and retake control of the Sinai after the attack. Under its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, Egypt should have a limited military presence in the area.
Morsy also called for three days of mourning and ordered a military funeral for all victims. He issued a decree honoring the victims, whether they were killed or wounded, the same way as martyrs of the 25 January revolution were honored.
Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali said Monday in a press conference at the presidential palace that all security services are working around the clock to investigate the incident and arrest the perpetrators. He described the incident as “Egypt’s greatest catastrophe” and promised punishment for the attackers.
In response to a question about the possibility of amending the Egypt-Israel peace agreement to allow the sufficient deployment of Egyptian forces to secure Sinai, Ali said Egyptian sovereignty over Sinai is indisputable and there are measures the country can take to secure the area.
Reponses to the attack
Israel’s top military spokesperson, Yoav Mordechai, told army radio on Monday the gunmen were “members of the global jihad based in Sinai, which has become a hothouse for world terrorism because of the weak control exercised” by Egypt.
Egyptian groups also responded to the attack. The Islamic Democratic Jihad Party, a party that is still in the process of being established, denounced the attack by gunmen that killed 16 Egyptian officers near the city of Rafah at the Israeli border late Sunday, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.
In a statement Sunday, the party — an umbrella for former jihadist groups — condemned the incident as a “sinful terrorist” attack, wishing recovery for the wounded.
It urged Morsy, the SCAF and the Interior Ministry to react strongly and to purge the country of terrorists.
The group also urged Al-Azhar to give advice regarding such “disastrous” incidents, which affect national security and contradict the teachings of Islam, and said it would not “stand idly toward any escalation of that kind.”
Freedom and Justice Party figure Gamal Heshmat, on the other hand, said the attack on Egyptian soliders was a crime committed by Zionists.
Heshmat wrote on his Facebook account that it’s unreasonable for Muslims to do this, adding that the attack would have been made on Israeli lands if it had been committed by jihadists.
He said the crime targets the failure of Palestinian reconciliation, the damaging political situation between Egyptians and Palestinians, and breaking Palestinian unity. He said he expected Israeli intelligence had something to do with the incident.
Heshmat called on the armed forces to immediately intervene and investigate.