Two Egyptian soldiers, three militants killed in Sinai firefight
CAIRO -- An Egyptian army raid meant to snare a wanted Islamist turned into a fierce firefight that left at least two soldiers and three militants dead in the volatile northern Sinai Peninsula on Friday, the military said.
The troops moved in after receiving reports that a fugitive Islamist leader was holed up in an area near Rafah, which borders the Gaza Strip. Instead of nabbing him, however, they found themselves in a gun battle so intense that the army rushed in helicopters to back up the soldiers on the ground.
The army’s chief spokesman, Col. Ali Ahmed, said in a statement that eight troops were wounded in “dense fire from all directions.”
The wanted man was affiliated with Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem, an Islamist group implicated in a number of high-profile attacks against Egyptian security forces in Sinai. The group also claimed responsibility for a failed attempt in September to assassinate Egypt’s interior minister, employing a massive suicide bomb.
The campaign in Sinai was launched soon after the military-backed interim government took power in July. Egyptian authorities accuse deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi of allowing armed militants to take root in the Sinai during his year-long presidency.
Conspiring with foreign groups is one of several serious new charges brought against Morsi this week by the Egyptian prosecutors. One of the organizations he is accused of colluding with is Gaza-based Hamas, which has denied any involvement in the Sinai conflict.
Morsi, who was charged along with nearly three dozen senior figures in his Muslim Brotherhood movement, could face the death penalty.
Even after a harsh crackdown by security forces in recent months, Morsi’s supporters have pressed a campaign of street protests demanding his reinstatement. On Friday, 85 arrests were reported at pro-Morsi rallies in half a dozen cities, some of which turned into violent clashes between protesters and police.
At least one person was critically injured, according to Egypt’s Health Ministry, which tracks casualties in street demonstrations.
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