Flames rising from a gas pipeline explosion in El-Arish last month.
Flames rising from a gas pipeline explosion in El-Arish last month. Photo by AP
Text size

EL-ARISH, Egypt - Islamist militants driving vehicles mounted with machine guns opened fire on a police checkpoint in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, killing two policemen and injuring a third in a daring attack early on Sunday, security officials said.

The policemen opened fire at the attackers, but failed to stop them. The gunmen fled the site of the attack south of the airport of the city of El-Arish, leaving two policemen dead, one hit in the chest and another in the head, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Militants have stepped up their activity in Sinai, taking advantage of a security vacuum caused by a thin police presence following the uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak last year.

The lawlessness in the peninsula has also been complicated by sour relations between the local Bedouin tribes and the security agencies, who were accused of mistreating them in the Mubarak era, rounding up hundreds following several terrorist attacks in Sinai in the last decade. In the past months disgruntled Bedouins have protested, blocking roads and sometimes kidnapping tourists, to push for demands including freeing prisoners.

In the nearby port city of Suez, one person died and 24 were injured during a fire that raged for nearly 20 hours in the storage facilities of an oil company, local police chief Adel Refaat said. Bashir Saad Bashir, 32, was driving a fire truck to help with putting out the fire when he was caught in the blaze. Firefighters backed by army helicopters failed to put out the flames, but they eventually died out, apparently because the oil was fully consumed.

An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire, which according to company officials burned up about 10,000 tons of crude oil, or 20 percent of the company's capacity.

Most of the company's output is for export. Egypt has been hit by recurrent fuel shortages, which government officials blame on hoarding subsidized fuel. But many blame the government's mismanagement for the crisis.

A company official, Hani Dahi, told the official state news agency MENA that the fire won't impact the local market because most of the destroyed oil was intended for export.

This is the second fire in an oil company in Suez since February. Bashir is the brother of one of four workers who died in the February fire, the police chief said.