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Published: Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 12:16:08 AM
Updated: Tuesday December 10, 2013 MYT 12:17:01 AM

Egyptian troops kill Sinai militant leader in gunbattle - army

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian troops shot dead an Islamist militant described as a leader of the Sinai group that claimed a failed attempt on the life of the interior minister and the murder of a high-level security official, the military said on Monday.

Attacks on soldiers and policemen in the Sinai Peninsula, bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, have become commonplace since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July in the face of mass unrest over his rule.

The Egyptian army said Ibrahim Abou Eita was killed in an exchange of gunfire with soldiers near the town of Sheikh Zuweid in Sinai and it described him as a leader of the Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

The army referred to Abou Eita, also known as Abou Suheib, in a statement on Facebook as "one of the most dangerous" militants in North Sinai who had been sought for attacks on security forces in the region.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqtis claimed responsibility for killing an official who security sources say had been due to testify in one of several legal cases against Mursi, and for a bid to kill Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim with a car bomb in September.

Security officials have been assessing the threat posed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is said to have 700 to 1,000 members. It is considered to be the second-largest Islamist militant group in Sinai behind Salafiya Jihadiya, which has an estimated following of around 5,000 members.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, whose name means "Supporters of Jerusalem", has claimed rocket attacks launched on Israel from Sinai and at least 10 attacks in the past two years on a gas pipeline linking Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

Sinai's eastern border with Israel and Gaza is a particularly sensitive one. Israel made its concerns known when Islamist militant groups expanded into a security vacuum left by the fall of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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