Egypt Tightens Sinai Security, Assesses Militant Threat

Egypt has tightened control of crossings from the Sinai peninsula and continued assaults on militants after an Islamist group based there said it tried to kill the interior minister in Cairo last week, the state news agency reported on Monday.

The group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility on Sunday for Thursday’s suicide bombing aimed at Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. It promised more attacks in revenge for a crackdown on Egypt’s Islamists, raising fears that militant violence in Sinai could spread across the country.

The Egyptian military on Saturday launched a major assault on militants in North Sinai, killing or wounding at least 30 people in clashes close to the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

The assault continued on Monday, with security forces killing nine and arresting 10 “armed elements” near Sinai cities of Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, state news agency MENA reported early on Tuesday, citing security sources.

MENA said Ibrahim decided to boost security surveillance and tighten control of crossings from Sinai to other Egyptian regions in conjunction with a broad security campaign in the peninsula.

Earlier, state television said one supporter of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood was killed and 10 people were injured in clashes between soldiers and supporters of the group in North Sinai on Monday. Security sources later said two people were killed in the clashes.

In two separate incidents in central Sinai, three soldiers were injured when gunmen opened fire, according to MENA, while security sources said two soldiers were killed in attacks by gunmen in Sinai.

Islamist militancy has risen sharply in the often lawless region adjoining Israel and the Gaza Strip, and elsewhere in Egypt, since the army deposed Mursi two months ago following mass protests against him.

Thursday’s daylight attack was the most spectacular so far. A suicide car bomber blew himself up next to Ibrahim’s convoy as he left his Cairo home for work in an armoured limousine. The bomber, a passerby and an unidentified person were killed and more than 20 were wounded.

Security officials said they were assessing the threat posed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is said to have 700 to 1,000 members and is considered the second-largest Islamist militant group in Sinai behind Salafiya Jihadiya, which has an estimated following of around 5,000 members.

Some officials doubt Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is capable of mounting attacks outside Sinai.

Security officials told Reuters they were especially concerned that the group, whose name means “supporters of Jerusalem”, will use stolen government vehicles for car bombs.

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