CAIRO -- The Egyptian army announced Tuesday it had shot and killed an Islamist militant suspected of a key role in attacks on security forces in the restive Sinai Peninsula, while a reported vigilante killing elsewhere in Egypt heightened tensions between Islamists and non-Islamists.
Selmi Mohamed Mosbeh, the man killed by army troops, went by the nom de guerre Abu Khaled, the army’s chief spokesman said. He was described as a member of the militant group Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, which boasts that it is a Sinai affiliate of Al Qaeda.
The group has claimed responsibility for a number of major strikes, including a failed assassination attempt in September against Egypt’s interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim. The army spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali, said on his Facebook page that Mosbeh was killed in a raid late Monday in Rafah, which straddles the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Mosbeh was wanted in connection with an attack last year that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, and Egyptian authorities said he had been planning to take part in an attack on a military checkpoint in Rafah.
The ongoing military offensive against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula has been a signature activity of the interim government that took power more than five months ago, after deposing Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in a popularly backed coup. The government accuses the former president of allowing militant groups to take root and flourish in Sinai during his yearlong tenure.
The campaign in Sinai comes against the backdrop of continued street protests by supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement demanding his reinstatement. One such rally, in the city of Mansoura, north of Cairo, took a violent turn Monday when a taxi driver plowed his vehicle into the crowd and was then dragged from his car and stabbed to death by demonstrators, according to witnesses cited by state-run Al Ahram newspaper.
A female protester the driver struck was reported by Muslim Brotherhood publications to be in critical condition. The driver’s funeral drew angry throngs who shouted slogans demanding revenge against Morsi’s followers.
The episode throws into sharp relief the continuing discord between Islamists and non-Islamists as campaigning kicks off for a referendum on the country’s proposed new constitution. The government has appealed for yes votes in next month’s poll, while Morsi’s backers have described the process as illegitimate, though so far stopping short of calls for a full-scale boycott.
In a separate incident, Egyptian forces in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia exchanged fire with suspected Islamist militants early Tuesday, leaving an Egyptian policeman and one suspect dead, according to state media. The reports said security forces seized a weapons cache that included rocket-propelled grenades and explosives.
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