An Islamic State affiliate claimed a missile attack on an Egyptian navy vessel Thursday, raising concerns that the emboldened jihadists can now threaten this country’s strategic waterways.
In an online statement, the militants said they used a guided missile to hit the ship off the shore of Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula. The group — which calls itself the Sinai Province of the Islamic State — also circulated photographs that appeared to show the projectile flying toward the vessel and exploding on impact. In the pictures, the blast sends a fireball into the sky. Egypt’s military said in a statement that a shootout with militants had set the vessel aflame and that no sailors were killed in the attack. Sinai Province claimed to have destroyed the naval frigate.
Egypt’s insurgents have launched a number of attacks on security forces since the military ousted the country’s elected Islamist government in 2013. But if the Islamic State-affiliated jihadists can maintain strikes on naval targets, analysts said, they could threaten Egypt’s shipping lanes and deal a serious blow to the country’s image as a stable power in the region.
The Egyptian government relies on about $5 billion in annual revenue from the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. The canal is operated under tight security, but at least one jihadist cell attacked a commercial ship there in 2013. In November, assailants in a fishing boat opened fire on an Egyptian navy vessel off the coast of the northern city of Damietta. Eight sailors remain missing from that incident.