Saboteurs blew up Egypt’s gas pipeline to Jordan and Israel on Monday, witnesses and security sources said, a few hours before the country holds its first free election since president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.
The explosion was set off west of El-Arish in Sinai, witnesses said. There was a second consecutive blast, about 100 metres away, sources said.
State news agency MENA said the explosion was in al-Sabeel area. Security forces and fire trucks raced to the scene.
Security sources said the explosions were detonated from a distance and that tracks from two vehicles were found in the area. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The blast marked the ninth time this year that terrorists have bombed the pipeline. The previous attack on the pipeline occurred Friday, when assailants bombed a portion of the pipeline some 60 kilometers from El-Arish. Egyptian officials said that the damage to the pipeline in the Friday blast was small compared to other such explosions this year because that portion of the pipeline has been empty since the last explosion earlier in November.
Earlier this month, Egyptian authorities arrested a top member of an Islamist terror group suspected of involvement in pipeline bombings that have disrupted gas supplies to Israel and Jordan.
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that the detainee, Muhammad al-Teehi, was also being investigated for an August terror attack in southern Israel that killed eight people.
Residents of El-Arish confirmed that he belongs to a “well-known religious current” but said he cannot move because of a car accident that fractured his pelvis.
Egyptian officials say limits on troop numbers in Sinai under a 1979 peace treaty with Israel make it harder to secure the area, which local Beduin say has been neglected for decades. Some have taken to smuggling and gun-running to scrape a living.
Egypt’s 20-year gas deal with Israel, signed in the Mubarak era, is unpopular with the Egyptian public, and critics argue that the Jewish state was not paying enough for the gas.
Previous explosions have closed the pipeline, run by Gasco, Egypt’s gas transport company, a subsidiary of the national gas company EGAS, for weeks.
The Egyptian armed forces launched a security sweep in August to root out suspected Islamist gangs and, according to security sources at the time, captured four Islamist militants as they prepared to blow up the pipeline in El-Arish. The government said this month it would tighten security measures along the pipeline by installing alarm devices and recruiting security patrols from Beduin tribesmen.