Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi ordered spy chief Murad Muwafi on Wednesday to retire in a shuffle of military and intelligence ranks after the deadliest militant attack on troops in decades.
Mursi vowed to restore security to Sinai after the incident on Sunday, which officials blamed on Islamic militants who have stepped up attacks on security forces since the overthrow of his predecessor Hosni Mubarak last year.
The decision extended to Abdel Wahab Mabruk, the governor of North Sinai where a weekend attack that killed 16 soldiers took place.
Mursi also ordered Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi to find a new head for the military police, his spokesman Yassir Ali said in a televised statement.
Ali did not say if the attacks prompted the changes, but a senior official close to Mursi said he decided to sack the generals because of the attack, which led to air strikes against the militants.
Hamdi Badeen, the head of military police, was replaced because he failed to secure the funeral for the slain soldiers, with some protesters trying to assault Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.
“The prime minister was subjected to an insult. It was unacceptable,” said the official on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity.
Mursi appointed Mohammed Rafaat Abdel Wahad Shehata as the interim head of General Intelligence.
Earlier on Wednesday, Muwafi, himself a former governor of North Sinai, issued a rare public statement saying his agency had forewarned of the weekend attack.
But he said the intelligence did not specify where the attack would take place and he had passed it on to the “relevant authorities,” adding that his powerful agency’s role was only to collect information.
Mursi is thought likely to have reached the decisions with the military top command, which ruled the country between Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011 and Mursi’s inauguration as his successor in June.
Earlier on Wednesday Egyptian aircrafts struck at targets near the border with Israel and troops raided villages as a crackdown began on Islamic militants blamed for a deadly attack.
Israel, urging Egypt to deal with a growing threat on its southern flank, voiced approval of the security sweep, the biggest military assault in the area since their 1973 war.
The air strikes around the town of Sheikh Zuwaid, 10 km (6 miles) from the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip, followed clashes overnight between armed men and security forces at several checkpoints in the north of Egypt’s Sinai region.
The militants, sworn to destroy Israel, have stepped up their actions on the isolated desert frontier since an uprising toppled Egypt’s autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak last year.
Mursi, a more moderate Islamist who took office in June, tried to allay Israeli concerns with promises to bring the region back under government control.
But Mursi has also brought Egypt closer to the Islamist Hamas movement ruling Gaza, making this a delicate time in relations between the Jewish state and the Arab power.
The militant strongholds are in northern Sinai. Red Sea resorts further south are popular with foreign tourists and a lifeline for Egypt’s struggling economy.
The Egyptian army, which kept peace with Israel throughout the Mubarak years and still has broad sway over national security, promised retribution after Sunday’s attacks and brought in 500 extra soldiers and police.
But there was no crackdown until Tuesday night after armed men opened fire on several checkpoints in al-Arish town, the security and administrative center for northern Sinai.
Gunmen also attacked checkpoints in Rafah, Egypt’s entry point into the Gaza Strip that borders both Israel and Egypt.