CAIRO: Egyptian troops Friday killed a prominent militant in the restive Sinai Peninsula where Islamist fighters have increasingly targeted security forces since last year’s ouster of President Mohammad Morsi.
Nour al-Hamdeen was “one of the most prominent and dangerous extremists,” military spokesman Col. Ahmad Ali said in a statement.
Hamdeen was ambushed by troops on a road to Al-Tuma village in the northern Sinai, and was killed in the ensuing firefight.
The army has poured troops into the mountainous and underdeveloped Sinai bordering the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Israel, to combat growing militancy.
Most attacks in the northern Sinai have targeted soldiers and policemen, but militants have also expanded their reach to the Nile Delta and Cairo.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an Al-Qaeda-inspired group, has claimed some of the deadliest attacks in Egypt since the army removed Morsi last July 3. The group emerged in 2011 in North Sinai, where the army is waging a campaign to reassert government control.
In its latest video released on jihadist forums, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis aired footage of a suicide bomber carrying out a December attack on police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, which killed 15 people.
The video named the bomber as Imam Maraie Imam Mahfouz or Abu Mariam, and said he was previously wounded in pro-Morsi demonstrations near Cairo’s Ramses Square, the site of deadly clashes between pro-Morsi protesters and security forces last year.
The video shows the bomber, wearing a white robe, lashing out at the military before driving a vehicle and carrying out the late-night attack.
It also shows two men, their heads covered with scarves, wiring together what appear to be barrels of explosives ahead of the attack, in which at least 16 people were killed.
“The path to establishing religion is not by preaching alone, as people claim, but by preaching and jihad,” the bomber says, flanked by two semi-automatic rifles.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed the bombing, but the military-installed authorities blamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood for it instead.
After the Mansoura bombing – which the Brotherhood had condemned – the authorities designated it as a “terrorist group.”
Meanwhile, two members of the Brotherhood were killed in an exchange of gunfire with Egyptian security forces in the Nile Delta, the Interior Ministry said, as the group said another of its supporters was shot dead in Alexandria.
The Interior Ministry said the Nile Delta shootout began when Brotherhood activists on motorbikes were spotted attempting to set alight a police checkpoint on a road between the cities of Tanta and al-Mahalla al-Kubra north of Cairo.
They opened fire on police as they tried to flee, it said.
“The forces encircled them and took the necessary security measures and exchanged fire. That led to the death of two of them,” the ministry said in a statement. Three others were arrested, it added.
The Brotherhood had no immediate comment on the incident.
The death in Alexandria was confirmed by senior ambulance service official Omar Nasr. The website of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party identified the man killed as 50-year-old Abdel-Hakim al-Zamzami. It said he had been shot by security forces and “militias” as they tried to break up a protest.
The increased political violence in the Arab world’s most populous country poses a big challenge to former army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Morsi last July and is expected to become Egypt’s next president after a May election.
Nearly 500 people, mostly soldiers and policemen, have been killed in militant attacks since last June, the government said last month.
The Brotherhood insists it remains committed to peaceful change, a message reiterated this week by a statement from abroad by its secretary-general Mahmoud Hussein, one of the few leaders of the group not now in jail.
Some analysts question how much control the Brotherhood’s leadership wield over the youth base of a movement that has been outlawed and driven underground.