ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Islamist militants attacked Egypt’s security headquarters in northern Sinai with machineguns and mortar bombs on Sunday and fought troops elsewhere in the desert region, killing one soldier and wounding seven, security officials said.
Troops and police had swept into a village 15 km south of Sheikh Zuwaid town, near the border with Israel, at dawn and arrested ten suspected militant leaders. They took them to the security HQ in the region’s main town of al-Arish, an army spokesman said.
“In return and out of vengeance, a group of Takfiri (Islamists) began firing indiscriminately at the North Sinai HQ at 8 a.m.,” the spokesman said in a televised statement.
The militants climbed on to the roofs of buildings across from the HQ and fired rocket-propelled grenades, a security source said. Machinegun battles were fought in the streets around the building, according to witnesses.
In Sheikh Zuwaid, which lies 30 km east of al-Arish, troops with about 30 armoured personnel carriers backed by helicopters fought with militants.
One soldier was killed and seven soldiers suffered gun wounds in the fighting around Sheikh Zuwaid, the army spokesman said, and a woman and child were wounded in crossfire.
Egyptian forces last month began their biggest security crackdown in decades in Sinai after militants killed 16 border guards on August 5 in the deadliest attack there since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel.
The government sent in hundreds of troops backed by tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters in a joint operation with police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons.
Disorder has spread in Sinai since former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year, with Islamist militants stepping up attacks on security forces and the Israeli border. Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Mursi, has vowed to restore order.
But efforts to impose central authority in the lawless desert region are complicated by the indigenous Bedouin population’s ingrained hostility to the government in Cairo.
Reporting by Yusri Mohamed and Marwa Awad; Writing by Patrick Werr and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Pravin Char