CAIRO : Two senior Egyptian army officers were killed during a raid on a jihadist hideout north of Cairo on Wednesday, as security forces close in on militants in the Nile Delta.
Six members of the Al-Qaeda-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem) group, which has been implicated in spate of attacks on security forces, were also killed in the hours-long shootout, the army and police said.
The jihadists have increasingly shifted their campaign of bombings and shootings from their base in the restless Sinai Peninsula to the Nile Delta and the capital. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in a wave of violence that has killed more than 200 soldiers and policemen since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.
The brigadier and colonel killed in the early morning shootout were both bomb disposal experts, the army said.
The cell targeted was suspected of involvement in a Saturday attack on a military checkpoint that killed six soldiers, as well as a January bombing of Cairo police headquarters.
The interior ministry said several barrels filled with explosives were discovered in the warehouse near the Nile Delta town Al-Qanatir Al-Khayriya, 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the capital.
Television footage showed forensic experts sifting through bomb-making materials, including ball bearings used to make blasts more deadly.
Police also found a sedan previously identified as the getaway car used in the Cairo police headquarters bombing as well as last week’s checkpoint attack.
Most of the attacks since Morsi’s overthrow have taken place in the Sinai Peninsula, where jihadist leaders are believed to be based.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed the downing of a military helicopter in the restive region using a heat-seeking missile, as well as the Cairo police headquarters bombing. The group said last week that its founder, Tawfiq Mohamed Fareej, was killed recently when a car accident set off a bomb he was carrying.
Fareej was the field commander of an August 18, 2011 cross-border raid into Israel that killed eight Israelis, the group said. He was also involved in the failed assassination of the interior minister in September.
The group acknowledged the death of one of its militants in a shootout with police in Cairo earlier in the month.
Mohamed al-Sayid al-Toukhi was killed in a gun battle with police after they tried to arrest him on suspicion of involvement in the police headquarters bombing.
Several new militant groups have sprung up in the face of a deadly security crackdown on Morsi’s supporters, which has killed at least 1,400 people, according to Amnesty International.
The government has designated Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, but the group says it is committed to peaceful protest.
A new Islamist group, Ansar al-Shariah, claimed responsibility on Monday for a spate of attacks on police in the Nile Delta that it said had targeted 28 security men.
The same name is used by jihadist groups in several other countries.