CAIRO – Heavily armed Egyptian forces swooped down Wednesday on a suspected militant arms cache and bomb factory, triggering a firefight that left two high-ranking military officers dead, officials and state media said.
At least five insurgents were also killed in the hours-long shootout north of Cairo and four others were arrested, the Interior Ministry said. Officials said the hideout belonged to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, an armed Islamist group that has carried out a number of sophisticated attacks in recent months.
The slain military men were identified by the army's chief spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali, as a brigadier general and a colonel who were at the scene of the operation because they were explosives experts.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has its roots in the restive Sinai peninsula, where it has been battling Egyptian troops. However, it has also demonstrated a growing ability to carry out attacks in heartland Egyptian cities, including the capital, Cairo.
Islamist militants have declared war on Egypt’s military-backed government in the eight months since Islamist President
But Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for virtually all major strikes, including an unsuccessful attempt six months ago to assassinate the interior minister, a bombing at a police headquarters in Cairo in January, the shooting down of a military helicopter in the Sinai, and an attack last month on a tourist bus near the Israeli frontier.
Wednesday's confrontation, and the rare deaths of two senior officers in a military raid, is likely to spur an even harsher crackdown by the interim government, which has enacted a series of repressive measures during its months in power.