x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Egypt forces close in on Islamist stronghold near Cairo

Egyptian security forces backed by helicopters surrounded a town outside Cairo known to be an Islamist stronghold after exchanging fire with armed men who killed a senior police officer.

CAIRO // Egyptian security forces backed by helicopters surrounded a town outside Cairo known to be an Islamist stronghold after exchanging fire with gunmen who killed a senior police officer early today, state media reported.

Egypt’s official news agency said Gen Nabil Farrag, an aide to the police chief of the city of Giza, was killed when militants opened fire on security forces deployed earlier today in Kerdasa to drive off suspected Islamic militants. It said “terrorists and criminal elements” were responsible.

Police arrested 32 suspects, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief reporters. The interior ministry said gunmen firing from rooftops had killed Farrag after they took over several town buildings, including schools and mosques.

Interior Ministry spokesman Gen Hani Abdel Latif said police now planned to besiege the town along with the army, which would then deploy special forces to round up the armed men.

“There will be no retreat until it is cleansed of all terrorist and criminal hideouts,” he said in a statement.

Armoured vehicles have been stationed at town entrances, blocking off the main roads. State TV said security forces using loudspeakers urged residents to stay indoors to avoid the crossfire.

Kerdasa witnessed a brutal assault on security forces last month when heavily armed suspected supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi killed 15 police officers and mutilated their bodies.

The attack appeared to be in retaliation for a violent crackdown on pro-Morsi protest camps where hundreds of people were killed. That operation sparked days of unrest and riots that left more than 1,000 dead.

Local media reported at the time that the suspected Morsi supporters drove police out of Kerdasa and blocked the main roads with sand bags. Residents and Authorities listed the names of more than 140 men wanted for suspected involvement in the policemen’s killings. Several were members of Egypt’s former militant group Gamaa Islamiya — which had waged an armed insurgency in the 1990s. The group later renounced violence and was a strong Morsi ally before and during his one-year presidency.

* Associated Press