x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Security forces hunt militants after storming town near Cairo

The violence revives memories of the 1990s, when an Islamist insurgency featured high-profile attacks on Westerners and senior government officials.

CAIRO // Egyptian security forces hunted for armed supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood on Friday after retaking control of a town near Cairo in a crackdown on Islamists.

Security sources said 85 people had been arrested since troops and police stormed Kerdassah on Thursday, but the area had not yet been stabilised. State television said dozens of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades had been seized.

Islamist sympathies run deep in Kerdassah and hostility to the authorities has grown since the army removed the Islamist Mohammed Morsi as president on July 3.

Already, Al Qaeda-inspired militants based in the Sinai Peninsula near Israel have been attacking security forces almost daily, and slowly expanding their operations, most spectacularly with a suicide attack on the interior minister in Cairo. The army has responded with air and ground attacks.

The violence has revived memories of the 1990s, when an Islamist insurgency featuring high-profile attacks on Westerners and senior government officials ravaged the tourist industry, a pillar of the economy.

Egypt’s finances and economy were already creaking under Mr Morsi and have taken a further turn for the worse since the army toppled him following mass protests against his rule.

A police general was shot dead during the Kerdassah operation and at least nine policemen and soldiers were wounded by a hand grenade in clashes with militants on Thursday. The general’s funeral on Friday was broadcast on state television.

Security forces had been absent from the area since August 14, when 11 policemen were killed as Kerdassah’s main police station was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and set on fire.

The attack was part of a wave of Islamist violence that broke out in response to the smashing of pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo in which hundreds of Morsi supporters were killed.

Police said on Friday about 150 arrest warrants had been issued for people suspected of the attack on the police station or of an attack on a church in Kerdassah.

* Reuters