Egyptian military troops and jets killed 20 militants in the Sinai region bordering Israel on Wednesday, striking back after armed men attacked several security checkpoints, an army commander in Sinai told Reuters.
“We have succeeded in entering al-Toumah village, killed 20 terrorists and destroyed three armored cars belonging to terrorists. Operations are still ongoing,” he told Reuters.
The military offensive follows attacks on Sunday that killed 16 border guards and which the government blamed partly on Islamist militants. The commander said the army had received information that many militants were in al-Toumah village.
First time missiles used
Egyptian military helicopters fired missiles at the suspected Islamic militants in Sinai.
Security officials say it is the first time that the army has fired missiles in Sinai since the 1973 war with Israel to recapture the Sinai Peninsula.
Security officials told The Associated Press that they launched the missile attack just hours after three security checkpoints were attacked by suspected Islamic militants in North Sinai's main city of al-Arish, some 50 kilometers from the Gaza-Israel border.
Officials say six people were wounded in the attacks -- among them a military officer, two soldiers, two policemen and a civilian whose condition is critical.
The new attacks happened after gunmen on Sunday shot dead 16 Egyptian border guards in an attack blamed partly on Palestinian militants.
Egypt knew of attacks
Meanwhile, Mourad Mowafy, head of Egyptian intelligence, was quoted by the Turkish News agency Anatolia on Tuesday saying that Egypt had received intelligence about the attack on the Egypt-Israel border before it took place.
“But this does not diminish the ability of our security agencies and their vigilance in Sinai,” he said, adding that preliminary information suggests that the alleged perpetrators belong to an extremist group in Sinai and Gaza.
Lawlessness in the rugged desert has spread since the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in an uprising 18 months ago and the election of an Islamist successor whose commitment to security cooperation with Israel has yet to be tested.