CAIRO // Egyptian security forces took control of a southern town besieged by supporters of the former president, Mohammed Morsi, as suspected militants struck at police in Sinai with a blast that wounded nine people.
Military troops and police secured the entrances to Dalga, a town of more than 100,000 people, gaining control of a police station that had been torched along with churches following Mr Morsi’s July 3 removal.
The operation marked the latest offensive by security forces to curb what officials say is rising militancy since the Islamist president was pushed from office. It came as a blast struck a bus carrying police conscripts in north Sinai, injuring eight of them and a civilian.
The violence is just one of the many challenges facing the government headed by the president, Adly Mansour, which is to oversee the drafting of an amended constitution and new elections by early next year. The presidency cited the security situation last week when it extended a state of emergency, in place since mid-August, for two months. The measures include a curfew that has gradually been eased.
Footage shown on the independent CBC satellite channel showed several armoured personnel carriers belonging to the military and police in Dalga. Roads to neighbouring villages had been closed and a curfew imposed. Security forces arrested 56 people involved in attacking police and religious facilities in the town, the interior ministry said.
Egypt’s south is a traditional stronghold for Islamist militants.
The military has been waging a battle against what it describes as terrorists in the Sinai, with officials worried the violence there could breed an insurgency in other parts of the country similar to that which plagued Egypt during the 1990s under the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak.
In the latest incident in Sinai, a blast near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city of Al-Arish struck a bus carrying police officers. Security forces exchanged fire with gunmen following the attack.
There were conflicting reports of what caused the blast, some saying it was a landmine others that rocket-propelled grenades hit the bus. Two armoured personnel carriers were guarding the vehicle at the time of the attack.
The Sinai operation is part of a broader push to curb unrest in the country since Mr Morsi was ejected from office and more than 1,000 people – mostly his supporters –were killed in clashes with security forces. The military-backed government has arrested top Muslim Brotherhood leaders and hundreds of its members.
Yesterday, the military said it had expanded its operations in Sinai and would continue pursuing militants until the area was secured. The army’s spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Ali, said that attacks started escalating during the protests leading up to Mr Morsi’s removal. Two car bombs struck security targets in north Sinai on September 11, killing at least six people. Militants killed 25 police in the region on August 19.
Col Ali also said security forces had found and neutralised bombs planted under watch towers whose wires stretched through underground tunnels to the nearby Gaza Strip, where they could be detonated.
He said the Palestinian territory’s Islamist Hamas rulers were not doing enough to secure the border, reflecting growing impatience with the Gaza government since Mr Morsi’s removal from power. Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood.
* Bloomberg News