Egypt targets cell suspected of killing Christian in Sinai

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces have shot dead three suspected Islamist militants accused of targeting Coptic Christians and involvement in the execution-style killing of a 62-year-old man in North Sinai, the interior ministry said on Monday.

The suspected militants died in an exchange of fire and were part of a cell that was plotting to attack Copts, their property and places of worship, as well as the security forces, the ministry said in a statement. It did not say when the clash took place.

An Islamist insurgency spread in the north of the Sinai Peninsula after Egypt's military overthrew Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi in 2013.

Large-scale attacks have subsided, but militants aligned with Islamic State have shifted tactics in the face of a military campaign against them. They temporarily overran villages near Bir al-Abd last summer.

The interior ministry said the cell targeted by security forces was involved in the killing of Nabil Habashi, who was kidnapped in Bir al-Abd in northwest Sinai in November.

A video released by Islamic State affiliate Sinai Province on its Telegram channel on Saturday purports to show Habashi making a statement saying he had been detained for three months and 11 days.

It then appears to show him kneeling in the desert and being shot by one of three men dressed in black and standing behind him.

Recent months have seen a rise in the number of incidents targeting Christians in western Sinai including the murder of one other civilian and the abduction of four more, according to the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, an independent monitor.

(Reporting by Haithem Ahmed, Omar Fahmy and Yusri Mohamed, Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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