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Suspected militants killed in Egyptian army operation in Sinai

Egypt has been struggling to contain a long-running insurgency in the peninsula
Egyptian Bedouins sitting in the village of al-Hamada in Wadi el-Sahu in South Sinai governorate (AFP)

At least 18 suspected militants have been killed in operations in Sinai by Egypt's military, according to a statement from the army.

The army said its forces succeeded in foiling "an attack by takfiri terrorist elements on one of the security complexes" in aerial and ground operations in the town of Bir al-Abd.

Egyptian security officials often use the term "takfiri" to refer to militant groups such as al-Qaeda or Islamic State (IS).

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"In cooperation with the air force, security forces managed to chase the takfiri elements across a farm and in abandoned houses, killing 18, including one wearing an explosive belt," the statement said.

Two military personnel were reported killed and four others wounded in Tuesday's operations in Bir al-Abd.

Troops also destroyed four cars including three that were packed with explosives, the army said.

Bir al-Abd, situated about 80km west of North Sinai's capital al-Arish, has been the site of several attacks claimed by IS, including the deadliest attack in modern Egyptian history in which more than 300 worshippers were gunned down in a mosque in 2017.

The statement late on Sunday came after videos surfaced on social media purportedly showing plumes of smoke, gunfire and residents screaming for their lives. 

AFP could not verify the authenticity of the short clips posted online.

Security forces have been battling a hardened insurgency in Egypt's northeast Sinai Peninsula spearheaded by a local IS affiliate.

In February 2018, authorities launched a nationwide operation against militant groups, focused on North Sinai. 

Since then, around 990 suspected militants have been killed in the region, along with scores of security personnel, according to official figures.

The Egyptian military has struggled to defeat the militants, which have launched attacks on tourists, security forces and houses of worship, and has also been accused of committing war crimes against civilians in the area.

Last month, Egypt’s Council for Media Regulation announced a ban on media reporting on the fighting in Sinai.