EL-ARISH, Egypt — Suspected Islamist militants on Tuesday attacked a gas pipeline in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that transports fuel to neighboring Israel and Jordan, officials said.
The attack, which targeted a pumping station about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of the city of el-Arish, is the sixth on the pipeline since the popular uprising that ousted longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in February.
Security officials said gunmen drove up to the pumping station in two pickup trucks before dawn Tuesday. Shortly after the assailants arrived, a loud explosion rocked the station, and large orange flames lit up the sky. One guard was injured and two people suffered burns after their nearby huts caught fire.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said an initial investigation indicated the gunmen planted explosives at the station. One of the officials blamed the attack on “extremist militants inspired by al-Qaida,” saying they have carried out past strikes on the pipeline.
Three lines branch out from the pumping station in el-Maydan — one to Israel, a second to Jordan, and a third to Egypt’s domestic market.
The Egyptian and Jordanian lines were shut down following Tuesday’s attack. The Israeli pipeline has not been functioning since an attack in July forced it to shut down.
The Egyptian government is also trying to discuss a new deal with Israel as it faces huge public pressure that the old pricing was too low.
Al-Qaida-inspired militants have been increasingly active in Sinai since Mubarak’s ouster on Feb. 11, taking advantage of the security vacuum caused by the abrupt withdrawal of police forces. Authorities have blamed the militants for attacks on police patrols as well as the previous five on the gas pipeline.
A powerful Bedouin group in Sinai warned Tuesday that they will not cooperate with authorities against such attacks unless the government releases thousands of Bedouin youth from prisons.
“The sons of Sinai are not responsible for anything happens on Sinai land and will not take part in the protection measures unless the government releases thousands of our people,” Salem Uneizan, spokesman for the “Coalition of Free Sinai Sons” said.
Tensions are escalating between the nomad Bedouins in Sinai and the Egyptian government. The Bedouins accuse the authorities of discrimination and of ignoring their plight.
The government last month deployed thousands of troops there as part of a campaign to contain the explosive situation there after the most brazen assault when hundreds of masked militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons stormed a police station in el-Arish, killing five people and wounding 28. They also spread pamphlets calling for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law.