The Egyptian army has deployed thousands of troops to the Sinai peninsula as part of a major operation against al-Qaeda-inspired militants, two senior military officials said Friday.
The soldiers, backed by armored vehicles and commandos, have moved into the northern Sinai city of el-Arish and will target Islamist extremists in the cities of Rafah, Sheikh Zawiyed and other areas in central Sinai, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.
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Al-Qaeda-inspired militants have been increasingly active in Sinai since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February, taking advantage of the security vacuum caused by the abrupt withdrawal of police forces. Authorities have blamed the militants for attacks on police patrols as well as a string of bombings on gas pipelines running through the peninsula.
In the most brazen assault, hundreds of masked militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons stormed a police station in el-Arish, killing five people and wounding 28. They also spread pamphlets calling for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law.
There are no known groups in Egypt with direct organizational links to al-Qaeda, although several senior members of the group, including current chief Ayman al-Zawahri, are Egyptian.
Officials said earlier that authorities identified one leader as Ali Abu Faris, and said that he was involved in the Sharm el-Sheikh blasts. Abu Faris was convicted and sentenced for the bombings, but escaped from prison during the uprising.
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