Egypt cracks down on Sinai militants

Aug. 8, 2012 at 4:27 PM
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EL-ARISH, Egypt, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Egypt's president Wednesday replaced his spy chief as part of a reshuffle of security forces amid clashes with armed militants in the Sinai, officials said.

President Mohamed Morsi dismissed Mourad Mowafi, chief of intelligence, and Hamdy Badeen, chief of military police the same day military helicopters fired missiles at militants in the Sinai killing at least 20 terrorists in an ongoing operation, Ahram Online reported.

Morsi appointed Maj. Gen. Mohamed Shehata as acting intelligence chief and selected Mohamed Fathi Refaa El-Tahtawi, former ambassador to Libya, as chief of presidential staff, Al-Ahram said. He also dismissed Abdel-Wahab Mabrouk, governor of North Sinai.

Morsi also appointed Maj. Gen. Hamed Zaky to head the Republican Guards and selected Maj. Gen. Maged Mostafa Kamel to lead the country's Central Security Forces, state-run Nile News TV reported.

Terrorists fired anti-aircraft missiles at one of the Egyptian air force Apache helicopters operating in the area but missed. Several fighter jets and some 30 Egyptian armored cars as well as scores of soldiers are taking part in the crackdown on militants, British daily The Guardian and the Arabic language Sky News said.

An unnamed Egyptian military official told reporters "20 terrorists were killed" in a missile attack in the village of Tumah, said. Other airstrikes were reported in the town of Sheik Zuwaid.

"We heard the sound of an enormous explosion coming from the checkpoint, then we saw an armed group driving military tanks towards Karam Abu Salem crossing," witnesses told The Daily News Egypt.

Tuesday night and early Wednesday, gunmen attacked three Egyptian military checkpoints in the Sinai, Egyptian media said. In the Sinai town of El-Arish, gunmen opened fire at Egyptian soldiers and police at checkpoints in the city, Ahram Online said. CNN said masked gunmen launched simultaneous attacks on five Egyptian security positions and a cement factory in North Sinai, wounding five security officers and a civilian.

The Egyptian daily al-Youm al-Sabah said soldiers searched homes looking for suspects involved in Sunday's attack in which 16 Egyptian soldiers and border guards were killed when their base near Rafah was attacked.

The situation in the Sinai Peninsula has plunged into a state of lawlessness since last year's uprising that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Ahram Online said. It deteriorated even further following Sunday's attack, the site said.

London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat said Egyptian authorities said Sunday's attackers were members of a Gaza-based al-Qaida affiliated group known as the Army of Islam.

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