CAIRO, July 22, (Agencies): Egyptian forces have killed 30 extremists during several days of security operations in the Sinai Peninsula involving the army, air force and police, the military said Saturday.
The Egyptian authorities are battling an insurgency by the Islamic State (IS) group in North Sinai that has killed hundreds of members of the security forces.
The military did not specify to which group the 30 extremists belonged but described them as “extremely dangerous”.
Five others were arrested as Egyptian forces imposed a “tight siege” on the North Sinai provincial capital El-Arish and the cities of Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, a military statement said.
Egypt has struggled to quash attacks led by IS, whose local branch is based in North Sinai, after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The bombing by IS of a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from a South Sinai resort in 2015 killed all 224 people on board and severely damaged the country’s tourism sector.
Egyptian forces shot dead two militants from the Hasam group, the government said Friday, after the Islamist group claimed to have carried a deadly attack on police.
The militants were killed in a shootout in Fayoum province, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Cairo, as the security forces tried to arrest them at a hideout, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Hasam, an extremist movement the government accuses of links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said it targeted a police convoy in the province on Thursday, killing one officer and wounding three others.
In its statement, the ministry did not say when the shootout took place, but Hasam appears to be describing the same incident only with different details.
The group said none of its members were harmed.
The Egyptian government says Hasam is linked to the Brotherhood movement of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown by the army in 2013.
The two militants who were killed were “among the most prominent leaders” of that group, said the interior ministry.
The group has previously claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against security forces as well as assassination attempts targeting a pro-government Muslim cleric and Egypt’s deputy prosecutor general.
Meanwhile, a Cairo criminal court on Saturday sentenced to death 28 people over the 2015 killing of Egypt’s top prosecutor after the death penalty was approved by the country’s top religious authority, and it also jailed 15 others for 25 years each.
Public prosecutor Hisham Barakat was killed in a car bomb attack on his convoy in the capital, an operation for which Egypt blamed the Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza-based Hamas militants. Both groups have denied having a role.
The court had in June recommended passing the death penalty to Egypt’s top religious leader, the Grand Mufti, who can approve or reject the recommendation. The mufti’s guidance is required when a court seeks the death penalty but his decision is not binding.
The sentences, confirmed by the court in Saturday’s hearing, can be appealed.
“The verdicts were shocking today,” said one of the defence lawyers, Ahmed Saad. “Others who had nothing to do with the assassination of martyr Hisham Barakat received life sentences. They had nothing to do with the incident.”
Egypt’s Interior Ministry released a video last year showing several young men confessing and admitting going to Gaza for training from Hamas, but some later denied the charges in court.
The defendants said they were forced to confess under torture and their lawyers asked that they be medically examined.
Egypt faces an Islamist insurgency led by Islamic State in North Sinai, where hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed. But the group has increasingly targeted Egypt’s Christians with church bombings and shooting.
An international rights group has urged Egyptian authorities to investigate the death of a Coptic Christian man who died in police custody, apparently of torture.
Amnesty International documented in a report released on Friday the death of a 43-year-old Gamal Aweida who was arrested on July 18 and held in Cairo’s Mensheyet Nasir’s police station over allegations of forgery. Hours later, police officers claimed that he committed suicide.
Amnesty, after speaking to family members and lawyers, found evidence that officers were implicated in torturing the man to death.
Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s North Africa campaigns director, says that “years of impunity have emboldened perpetrators of such abuses in Egypt, giving security forces free rein to torture and ill-treat detainees without fearing any consequences.”
She said Egypt “must immediately open an investigation.”