Egyptian forces to launch offensive against al Qaeda cells in the Sinai
CNN reports on the rise of al Qaeda-linked cells in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, and said that the military will launch an operation to uproot these cells within the next day:
Egyptian military and intelligence officials say they are preparing to launch an operation against al Qaeda cells that have recently been established in the restive Sinai peninsula.
While Egypt has seen a number of homegrown militant Islamist groups emerge and dissipate over the past 20 years, none has had clear organizational links with al Qaeda.
But senior officials told CNN that al Qaeda cells have now surfaced in northern Sinai, which has seen acts of sabotage and clashes between rival Salafist groups this year. Among the incidents, a gas pipeline to Israel was blown up several times.
The focus of their concern is the coastal area between el-Arish, a resort town of about 80,000 people on the Mediterranean, and Rafah on the border with Gaza.
"Al Qaeda is present in Sinai mainly in the area of Sakaska close to Rafah," a general in Egypt's intelligence service told CNN Thursday. "They have been training there for month, but we have not identified their nationalities yet."
The official said a military operation was imminent "to deter these armed groups."
"Units from the 2nd infantry division, with support from general security and the border guards," would take part in the operation, said the secretary general for North Sinai governorate, Gaber al-Araby.
"We plan to clean out those criminal pockets around the area of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid," al-Araby said.
The CNN report notes that a group calling itself "Al Qaeda Sinai Branch" has distributed flyers calling for the establishment of an Islamic state and attacks on security forces, while a Salafist group known as the Takfir wal-Hijra recently attacked a rival group outside a mosque, killing seven:
Mohamed Mahmoud, who was among the protesters, told CNN; "The Takfiris stormed in by the hundreds mounted on pickup trucks and motorcycles waving black flags, a symbol of Jihad."
"The militants were heavily armed with machine guns, hand grenades and rocked-propelled grenades," he said. "They attacked two police stations and scared the residents under the name of Jihad. We only call for Jihad if someone attacks our Islamic country or people."
The head of security in North Sinai, Gen. Saleh al Masry, told CNN last week that Takfir-wal-Higra had become active during the revolution that led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.
"The terrorists were joined by members of Palestinian factions and they are currently being questioned by military intelligence. We arrested 12 assailants including three Palestinians," al Masry said.