Egypt army attacks Sinai Islamists as militancy spreads

Egypt army attacks Sinai Islamists as militancy spreads

CAIRO - The Egyptian army launched an attack against Islamist militants in North Sinai on Saturday, killing at least nine people, security officials said.

Two Egyptian soldiers were killed late on Saturday when an improvised explosive device detonated in a road in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid near the border with the Gaza Strip, security sources said.

Radical Islamists in the rugged desert region adjoining Israel, who expanded into a security vacuum left by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, have been staging almost daily assaults on security forces and other targets.

Dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles backed by attack helicopters were used earlier in Saturday's operation near Sheikh Zuweid, a few kilometres (miles) from the Palestinian Gaza Strip, security sources said.

The army said nine militants had been arrested.

Since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3, and especially since security forces killed hundreds of Islamists when they smashed protest camps in Cairo on August 14, there have been online calls from Islamist radicals for wider attacks on the state.

Egyptian memories of an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s were revived on Thursday when a suicide bomber blew up a car bomb next to the interior minister's convoy in Cairo.

A week ago, militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a ship passing through the Suez Canal on the Sinai's western edge, vital to world trade as well as Egypt's depleted state finances.

On Saturday, a bomb exploded at a Cairo police station for the second time in less than a week, state media said, although no one was hurt.

In addition, explosives were found on the railway line between the cities of Suez and Ismailia along the Suez Canal, but defused before they could do damage, according to the state news agency MENA.

No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, although a video apparently of the Suez attack was posted on YouTube with an Islamist logo.

But the army-backed rulers have incensed Islamists inside Egypt and abroad with their violent crackdown on Mursi's Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, most of whose top leaders have been arrested and accused of terrorism or inciting violence.

The Brotherhood, sworn to peaceful resistance, dismisses the accusations as a pretext for the crackdown by a "putschist regime", and has defied the crackdown to bring thousands onto the streets across Egypt three times in eight days.

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