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Egypt military crackdown nets Sinai 'Islamist militants'

Aug. 18, 2011 11:08 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 18, 2011 11:08 P.M.)
CAIRO (AFP) -- An Egyptian security chief said on Thursday a military operation in Sinai against militants uncovered a bomb-making factory and netted 20 wanted men, including Palestinians and radical Islamists.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Egypt to ensure security in the Sinai following a deadly attack across the border in Israel on Thursday that killed seven people.

Egyptian military and police deployed tanks and armored vehicles in the peninsula last week to quell Islamist militants who have repeatedly attacked police and a pipeline that exports gas to Israel.

Saleh al-Masri, the North Sinai security chief, told the official MENA news agency that the captured men are suspected of involvement in an attack on a police station last month that killed a military officer and three bystanders.

"Twenty wanted men have been captured so far, including Palestinians, and they are undergoing interrogation," he said.

Masri said some of the captured men belonged to extremist Islamist cells. He added that a bomb-making workshop capable of producing explosive vests was found in the north along with a large quantity of explosives.

An Israeli army commander said Thursday that four of the men behind the attacks in Israel were killed by Israeli and Egyptian fire in Egypt's territory, but the Egyptians have denied the attack was staged from Sinai.

Militants in the thinly-populated peninsula have attacked a pipeline that exports gas to Israel five times this year and have passed out flyers in which they claimed affiliation with the global Al-Qaeda network.

Masri denied that the militants were members of Al-Qaeda, which has called for an Islamist state in Egypt.

The army arrested four gunmen this week as they prepared to blast the pipeline again, and after more than 1,000 troops and police were deployed in the Sinai to uproot the militants.

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