Tony G. Gabriel
CAIRO: Egyptian security forces said they arrested a top wanted militant Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula, while authorities reported a failed attempt to disrupt traffic on the strategic Suez Canal but gave scant detail.
Canal authority chairman Mohab Mamish said a “terrorist element” had tried to disrupt navigation in the waterway by targeting a Panama-flagged ship. In comments carried by official news agency MENA, he said the attempt was “completely unsuccessful” and the container carrier unharmed. He did not say how the ship was targeted.
Authorities have taken extra security measures to safeguard the waterway as lawlessness and violence gripped Sinai, where militants and smugglers rove relatively freely and target security forces and posts.
Mamish said military troops dealt “firmly” with the situation, and that navigation was largely uninterrupted. Earlier Saturday, residents of Port Said, a city that lies along the waterway, said they heard a loud bang. It was not immediately possible to reach witnesses later Saturday.
Egyptian authorities have heightened their security arrangements in recent weeks, following the military coup that ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3.
They accuse opponents of the coup of trying to destabilize the country, and have waged a security crackdown against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and other allies, arresting hundreds.
Pro-military media and state TV have frequently described the crackdown on Morsi supporters as a “fight against terrorism.”
Morsi supporters have held near-daily protests since the coup but deny they are violent. After a bloody dispersal of their major sit-ins earlier this month, however, some retaliated by attacking police stations, government buildings and churches.
In Sinai, violence has only worsened since Morsi’s overthrow.
The militant arrested there Saturday is suspected of leading an al-Qaida-linked group in an ambush where 25 off-duty policemen were lined up and shot last week, security officials said. The attack was one of the area’s worst militant strikes on security forces.
The man, Adel Mohammed, also known as Adel Habara, according to one official, has already been sentenced to death in absentia for killing soldiers in the Nile Delta last year.
Habara’s arrest could potentially undermine militant activities in the area, where over two dozen security men have been killed since July. The security official said two other suspects were arrested along with Habara.
Authorities have been engaged in a long-running battle against militants in the northern half of the strategic region, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Earlier Saturday, security officials said 31 suspected militants have been arrested since Thursday, including two caught seeking treatment for wounds sustained in clashes with police.