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Jul 25, 1:43 PM EDT

Gunmen kill 2 senior officers in Egypt's Sinai


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EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) -- Gunmen shot and killed two senior Egyptian officers in the country's volatile Sinai Peninsula where the military has been trying to quell a spreading insurgency by Islamic militants, a security official said.

The attackers opened fire on the officers' vehicle near the peninsula's northern city of el-Arish, sprayed it with bullets and then fled the scene, the official said.

The attack came a day after the military said it killed three militants in Sinai, including the brother of the alleged leader of an al-Qaida-inspired group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.

A statement Thursday on the official Facebook page of military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir, said the Egyptian troops targeted suspected militants' hideouts as part of an ongoing offensive in Sinai. The statement said the troops blew up a vehicle packed with weapons, killing three suspected militants who were inside.

Military officials later identified one of the killed as Khaled el-Manaei, the brother of Shadi el-Manaei, the alleged leader of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem as the group is also known. The group has in the past denied that el-Manaei is their leader.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks in Sinai and elsewhere, which have escalated since the military's ouster last July of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and its subsequent crackdown on Morsi's supporters.

Militant attacks have also at times spread from Sinai, with dramatic bombings in several Nile Delta cities and Egypt's capital, Cairo, largely targeting the military and the police. Authorities accuse Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood of helping militants find new ground in the northern Sinai Peninsula, a claim Morsi and the Brotherhood deny.

Last week, a brazen attack in the country's western desert along the Libyan border targeted Egyptian troops, killing 22 soldiers in what was one of the gravest assaults on the army. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the country's former military chief who ousted Morsi, called the assault a terrorist attack and said it would not go unpunished.

For its part, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed in an Internet statement that its three members died in an alleged Israeli drone strike after they launched several rockets against Israel. The statement's authenticity could not be independently verified but it was posted on websites commonly used by militants.

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