Leader of Egypt’s deadliest militant group killed in Sinai
CAIRO // A top Egyptian militant was killed yesterday ahead of next week’s election expected to sweep ex-army chief Abdel Fattah El Sisi into the presidency on a pledge to eradicate terrorism.
Shadi El Menei, a senior commander of Egypt’s deadliest militant group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, was shot dead in an overnight ambush in his native Sinai Peninsula, officials said.
Word of his death, which was not immediately confirmed by militant sources, came on the last official day of campaigning for Egypt’s presidential election.
There were conflicting accounts of who carried out the ambush.
Some officials said Bedouins tipped off security forces, who intercepted him and other militants as they were preparing to bomb a gas pipeline.
Some Bedouin tribesmen have in recent months collaborated with security forces against militants.
Others said it was civilians from among the Sinai’s heavily armed tribes who killed El Menei.
Ansar Beit Al Maqdis has claimed some of the deadliest and most high-profile attacks on security forces since the army removed the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last July.
They have included a bombing at Cairo police headquarters last December and an assassination attempt against the interior minister in September, as well as frequent attacks on the security forces in the group’s Sinai base.
The US State Department designated the group a “foreign terrorist organisation” in April.
Before Mr Morsi’s ousting, Ansar Beit Al Maqdis mainly targeted Israel, through attacks on the gas export pipeline through the Sinai to Israel and in January its fighters fired a rocket at Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat.
But since July, the group has sharply escalated its operations, and the authorities in Egypt’s interim government say more than 500 people have died in the violence.
The group is thought to have been founded in 2011 in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprising that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.
Its command structure and funding sources remain shadowy and analysts said El Menei was just one of a number of leading figures within the group.
A founder, Tawfiq Mohamed Fareej, was killed in March when a car accident set off a bomb he was carrying.
The army has poured troops into the Sinai in a bid to crush the militants, securing Israel’s backing for the deployment in the sensitive peninsula where troop numbers are restricted under the two countries’ 1979 peace treaty.
Authorities have repeatedly blamed the surge in violence on Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which they designated a terrorist organisation in December. Saudi Arabia also added the Brotherhood to its list of terror groups in March, a move supported by the UAE.
“Vengeance is coming,” Ansar Beit Al Maqdis warned Mr El Sisi this year, and the group carried out twin suicide bombings outside the South Sinai provincial capital Al Tur on May 2 on the eve of the launch of the election campaign.
Mr El Sisi is running on a pledge to stamp out the violence and has promised that if he wins, there will be no place for the Brotherhood, whose top leaders are all in jail or exile.
In his campaign appearances, he has played to the security credentials and strongman image that have endeared Mr El Sisi to Egyptians weary of the turmoil that has ravaged the economy and its vital tourism sector since the Arab Spring.
But unrest in Egypt remains. A home-made bomb went off yesterday in front of a fuel station run by the army in Cairo’s Nasr City district soon after a march by pro-Morsi protesters was dispersed there by security forces who used tear gas, security officials said, adding there were no casualties in the blast.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: May 23, 2014 04:00 AM