Israeli drone kills 5 suspected Islamic terrorists on Egyptian soil
EL-ARISH, Egypt — An Israeli drone strike killed five suspected Islamic terrorists and destroyed a rocket launcher in Egypt's largely lawless Sinai Peninsula on Friday, two senior Egyptian security officials said, describing a rare Israeli operation carried out in its Arab neighbor's territory.
The attack happened a day after Israel briefly closed its airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, close to the Sinai, in response to unspecified security warnings. Eilat was previously targeted by rocket fire from the Sinai.
Israel maintained official silence about the strike, suggesting that if the Jewish state was involved, it might be trying to avoid embarrassing the Egyptian military. An Egyptian military spokesman later denied the report but did not provide another cause for the explosion.
Egypt's official MENA news agency said an explosion destroyed a rocket launcher set up near the border to initiate attacks against Israel, and at least five Islamic militants were killed.
Bodies of the slain terrorists were charred from the blast, an Egyptian official said. He said four of the dead appeared to belong to a family called el-Menaie, whose members are wanted on several terrorism-related charges.
“Next to the bodies, there were rockets and a motorcycle that turned into pieces,” the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
A tribal leader in the area said an Egyptian helicopter flew over the site a few minutes after the drone strike. The Egyptian security officials said the drone had been flying near the site of the attack since early Friday on the Israeli side of the border and fired from there. Those on the Egyptian side of the border could hear the drone buzzing overhead for hours, they said.
The site of the strike is about 3 miles from the Israeli border.
An Israeli drone attack in the Sinai could signal a significant new level of security cooperation between the two former foes following a military coup that ousted Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsy, last month. The military has alleged that Morsy and his Muslim Brotherhood movement had turned a blind eye to Islamic terrorists in the Sinai.
Morsy's ouster has triggered an increase in attacks against security forces on the peninsula, raising fears that extremists could exploit Islamist anger to spread their insurgency.
The Egyptian security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Israeli attack was initiated in cooperation with Egyptian authorities despite past insistence that the government would not allow anyone to use its territories to launch attacks against jihadi groups.
The Israeli military said only that it was looking into the report after being contacted by the AP.
Egyptian military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali initially said on his official Facebook page that security forces were investigating two explosions in el-Agra. He later issued a statement denying “in form and substance any attacks from the Israeli side inside Egyptian territories” and saying the claim of cooperation was “baseless.”