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Leaders among 21 extremists killed

Sinai monastery shooter dead

A picture taken on April 16, 2017 shows a general view of the Monastery of St. Catherine in Egypt’s south Sinai, where a policeman was killed and three others wounded on April 18, 2017 when gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint near the monastery, the interior ministry said, in an attack claimed by Islamic State jihadists. (AFP/Pedro Costa Gomes)

CAIRO, April 20, (Agencies): Egyptian forces killed 21 extremists, at least 19 of them in an airstrike, the military said Thursday, including three senior figures of the Islamic State group’s affiliate in the restive Sinai Peninsula. The announcement came in two separate statements, with the military saying in the first that its air force killed 19 militants and destroyed four vehicles in northern and central Sinai. The statement was coupled with a video that showed its air force striking the vehicles and “terrorist strongholds.”

The second statement said two additional militants were killed and three injured in central Sinai. It also said security personnel seized two vehicles carrying large quantities of materials used to manufacture explosives. Both were passing through a tunnel that runs under the Suez Canal, according to the statement. On its official Facebook page, the military published photos showcasing stacks of money and three men who had been arrested with the vehicles with their hands cuffed to their backs. According to the military, one of the senior figures killed was responsible for conducting interrogations within the IS affiliate and another was in charge of a committee on religious affairs.

The role of the third senior figure killed was not immediately clear. The armed forces announcements come nearly two days after militants attacked a checkpoint near the famed St Catherine’s Monastery in south Sinai. The attack was claimed by IS. Egyptian police said Wednesday they killed one of the militants involved in the attack, adding that an investigation was underway to identify the slain militant. The military claims to kill hundreds of militants in the area each year, although it rarely offers proof and journalists and non-residents are banned from the area.

Hundreds of security forces have been killed. The IS-led insurgency is centered in northern Sinai, but militants have occasionally struck farther south. St Catherine’s monastery, a Christian site 500 kms (300 miles) southeast of Cairo in the south of the Sinai attracts thousands of visitors a year. Tuesday’s attack comes nine days after Palm Sunday services at Coptic Christian churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria were struck by twin bomb attacks claimed by IS, killing 45 people. IS has threatened to carry out more attacks on Copts, which makes up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of more than 90 million people. Egypt has battled a jihadist insurgency in North Sinai province that has killed hundreds of policemen and troops since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. In October 2015, IS claimed the bombing of a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from the popular South Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.

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