Egypt army kills 16 militants in raids ahead of presidential polls

CAIRO • Egypt's army said yesterday that it had killed 16 militants and detained 34 more in the Sinai peninsula since launching a major operation against them last Friday.

The security sweep in the Sinai, the heart of a persistent insurgency by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, comes as President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seeks re-election next month.

Army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said that 16 militants had been killed and 34 detained during a "sweep and raids... in northern and central Sinai".

The army destroyed 66 militant hideouts, 11 pickup vehicles and 31 motorbikes, he said in a statement.

The military also discovered and destroyed an explosives-making laboratory and a communications centre, as well as six cannabis and opium fields, he added.

Islamist insurgents have been targeting security forces since 2013, when the army - then led by Mr Sisi as army chief - ousted then president Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, following mass protests against his rule.

Mr Sisi, who is seeking re-election, ordered the armed forces last November to defeat the militants within three months, after an attack on a mosque killed more than 300 people, the deadliest such incident in the Arab world's most populous country. No group has claimed responsibility for that attack.

Apart from the Sinai, the Egyptian army has said "Operation Sinai 2018" would also cover parts of the Nile Delta and the Western Desert, where other militants have conducted attacks, some believed to be staged out of neighbouring Libya.

Mr Tamer said last Friday that the air force had targeted a number of homes and hideouts in the north and west of the Sinai.

Military warplanes struck "terrorist concentrations and hideouts" in northern and central Sinai through the night and into the early hours, targeting weapons warehouses and logistics support areas, he said last Saturday. On the ground, special forces worked with the police and conducted raids inside cities in Sinai to seize militants.

Egypt has been under a state of emergency since last April, after two suicide bombings at churches killed at least 45 people in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria. The bombings were claimed by ISIS.

The success or failure of the military's latest push, however, will most likely not affect the result of next month's election.

Mr Sisi is widely expected to win as all opposition figures thought to pose a serious challenge to him have pulled out of the race.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Egypt army kills 16 militants in raids ahead of presidential polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe