CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s military launched air strikes and ground operations that killed 63 Islamist militants in North Sinai on Sunday, security sources said, as the country grapples with an increasingly ambitious insurgency based in the region.
The Sinai has recently witnessed some of the heaviest fighting between security forces and Islamist militants since the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.
Security sources said on Sunday troops killed the 63 in villages between the towns of Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah.
The army found four militant hideouts and attacked them with Apache helicopters and ground troops. It also attacked vehicles belonging to the militants, the security sources added.
Islamic State’s Egypt affiliate, recently renamed Sinai Province, has killed hundreds of soldiers and police since Mursi’s removal.
Though the vast peninsula has long been a security headache for Egypt and its neighbours, the removal of Mursi brought new violence that has grown into an Islamist insurgency that has spread out of the region.
On Monday, a car bomb in Cairo killed Egypt’s top prosecutor, the highest-profile official to die since the insurgency began.
Egyptian government officials have accused Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood of links to Sinai attacks. The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful movement that wants to reverse what it calls a military coup through street protests.
Egypt’s interior ministry said on Sunday it had arrested 12 Brotherhood members who had formed three cells with the intention of carrying out attacks on policemen, soldiers and military and police bases.
Also on Sunday, the prosecutors referred to trial 22 people charged with planting bombs near targets including the high court and cabinet buildings, state news agency MENA reported.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has also expressed concern about militants based in neighbouring Libya, where Egypt has launched air strikes on Islamic State targets.
Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Michael Georgy and Andrew Roche