Egypt vows crackdown on 'infidel' after killings

Updated: 2012-08-07 08:17


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Egypt branded Islamist gunmen who killed 16 police near the Israeli border as "infidel" and promised on Monday to launch a crackdown following the massacre that strained Cairo's ties with both Israel and Palestinians.

Egypt vows crackdown on 'infidel' after killings

Palestinian Hamas security officers patrol an area in the southern border town of Rafah on Monday. Five gunmen who shot dead 16 Egyptian guards near the border with Israel before crossing into the Jewish state in an armored vehicle have been killed, according to an Israeli army spokesman. Said Khatib / Agence France-Presse

An Egyptian official has said "jihadist elements" crossed from the Gaza Strip into Egypt before leading the assault on a border station. They then stole two armored vehicles and tried to smash their way into Israel, but were killed by Israeli fire.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that eight assailants died in the attack, adding that he hoped the incident would serve as a "wake-up call" to Egypt, which he has long accused of losing its grip in the desert Sinai Peninsula.

The bloodshed represented an early diplomatic test for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who took office at the end of June after staunch US ally Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year in a popular uprising.

Mubarak cooperated closely with Israel on security and suppressed Islamist movements such as Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood whose leaders often voiced hostility toward the Jewish state.

Egypt's military, which still holds many levers of power in the most populous Arab nation, called the attackers "infidels" and said it had been patient until now in the face of the instability in Sinai.

"But there is a red line and passing it is not acceptable. Egyptians will not wait for long to see a reaction to this event," it said in a statement on its Facebook page.

A demilitarized Sinai is the keystone of the historic 1979 peace deal between the two countries.

But for the past year there has been growing lawlessness in the vast desert expanse, as Bedouin bandits, jihadists and Palestinian militants from next-door Gaza fill the vacuum, tearing at already frayed relations between Egypt and Israel.

Addressing a parliamentary committee in Jerusalem, Barak praised the work of Israeli forces in blunting Sunday's attack, with the Israeli airforce swiftly swinging into action and destroying one of the vehicles as it tried to breach the border.

"Perhaps it will also be a proper wake-up call to the Egyptians to take matters in hand on their side in a firmer way," he said.

'Swear to avenge'

"We swear in the name of God to avenge them," the Egyptian army said in its statement on Monday.

"Anyone liaising with these groups that have attacked our troops in the Sinai in recent months will pay dearly, be it inside Egypt or abroad," the Egyptian army said.

"The bodies of the five gunmen have been found by the Israeli army," an Israeli military spokesman said, but did not give details.

The Israeli military's top spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, told army radio: "We were ready because we had previous information from Shin Bet (security service) and from military intelligence services, which allowed us to thwart a bloody attack."

The armored vehicle that crossed the border "fired in every direction after entering Israeli territory before being attacked by tanks and from the air", Mordechai added.

He said the gunmen were "members of the global jihad based in Sinai, which has become a hothouse for world terrorism because of the weak control exercised" by Egypt.

Morsi said he had given "clear instructions" that Egypt must take "full control of the Sinai".

An interior ministry team has been sent to the site to investigate the attack, the ministry said. Morsi said those who committed the "cowardly" attack and those who worked with them would pay dearly.

"Those responsible for this crime will be hunted down and arrested," he said.

"Everybody will see that the Egyptian military and police forces can get these criminals wherever they are," he said.