Gunmen shot dead a Coptic Christian priest in Egypt's lawless Northern Sinai on Saturday in what could be the first sectarian attack since the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, security sources said.
The priest, Mina Aboud Sharween, was attacked in the early afternoon while walking in the Masaeed area in El Arish.
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The shooting in the coastal city was one of several attacks believed to be by Islamist insurgents that included firing at four military checkpoints in the region, the sources said.
Saturday's attacks on checkpoints took place in al-Mahajer and al-Safaa in Rafah, as well as Sheikh Zuwaid and al-Kharouba.
The violence follows attacks in which five police offers were killed in El Arish on Friday.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has fiercely criticized Coptic Pope Tawadros, spiritual leader of Egypt's 8 million Christians, for giving his blessing to the removal of the president and attending the announcement by armed forces commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suspending the constitution.
The Brotherhood has also been slammed, however, by the militant Islamist organization al-Qaeda, as the group's leader, Ayman Zawahiri, said that "many senior Islamists... forget their ideology, their way of behavior and their history. The Islamists should have revolted against them, but in the end they surrendered to the secularists and gave up their identity."
In a video posted on the website of the world's number one Sunni terrorist organization, Zawahiri insisted that the "battle in Egypt is far from over, it has only just begun. The revolution in Egypt must continue and the responsibility is on the Islamic nation to give more martyrs."
Zawahiri further claimed that "the Islamists were mistaken when they set up different, independent Islamic parties; failing to come together under one single party, based on the Islamic sharia law."
He reiterated his position that "the fault line in the Egyptian battle is clearly drawn between the secularist – who are allied with the (Coptic) church and support the army through a pact that was created by Mubarak and the US – and on the other hand the Egyptian Islamists."
In Zawahiri's opinion, the Egyptian judiciary is just as guilty as the country's army: "The army has given the judiciary a false legitimacy. The Constitutional High Court is a despicable secular court room run by thieves and wolves."
Early Saturday, a new radical group emerged. The group calls itself Ansar Al Sharia in Egypt and in a statement published Saturday the group requested Muslims come together, gather their arms and begin training in a bid to deter the "aggressors" who deposed Morsi and "allow for the implementation of the sharia" in Egypt.
Israel is monitoring developments in Egypt, specifically in Sinai, fearing potential spillover of the fighting into Israeli territory.
On Friday, the Jamaat Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis group, which operates in the Sinai Peninsula, took responsibility for the alleged launch of two Grad missiles at Eilat on Thursday. The group posted an online statement saying: "Things in Egypt, in which the Jews are involved, will not stop Jihad."
Egypt's Interim President Adli Mansour called representatives of the country's political factions Saturday, to discuss the new government and the identity of its leader. According to Al-Jazeera, the Muslim Brotherhood party refused to attend the meeting.
Reuters contributed to this report
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