Egyptian police on Tuesday said they killed the suspected leader of the militant group blamed for last month's deadly bombings in the Red Sea resort of Dahab. Police say they arrested another man after a long gunbattle in North Sinai.
Egyptian security forces had been looking for the man they identified as Nasser Khamis El-Mallahi since shortly after the triple bombings in Dahab last month, which killed at least 19 people.
They say he led the Islamist militant group known as Tawhid and Jihad, which they say carried out not just the Dahab bombings, but also two earlier attacks on tourist resorts in the Sinai Peninsula. Police say the group was based in El-Mallahi's home town of El-Arish, near the Mediterranean coast in North Sinai.
Interior Ministry spokesman Hamdy Abdel-Karim says police, acting on a tip, found El-Mallahi and an accomplice hiding on a farm outside El-Arish.
"This morning security forces surrounded him and cut off all escape routes," he said. He says there was a heavy exchange of gunfire between the two fugitives and police.
He says two machine guns, ammunition and hand grenades were found.
The interior ministry says El-Mallahi's right-hand man was arrested after the gun battle, and was not wounded. He was identified as Aliyan Abdullah Abu Grair.
In addition to the Dahab attacks, police are linking the El-Arish militant group to multiple bombings in the Sinai resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh and Taba beginning in 2004.
Each attack has been followed by a massive security sweep of Sinai and hundreds if not thousands of arrests. The Sinai crackdowns have been heavily criticized by local and international human rights groups.
"The security response was really massive and was not something that I could describe as targeted, as thousands of people, there were some credible reports that thousands of people have been massively arrested, with no basically charges, with no revealing their whereabouts, and most of the time denying that people have actually been arrested," said Fadi Al-Qadi, Human Rights Watch spokesman.
Al-Qadi says there are credible reports that some detainees have been tortured.
"We have been also asking the Egyptian government, the interior ministry, to reveal the whereabouts of those detainees, to reveal the numbers, to publish a public record of the names of those people who have been arrested, to allow access to defense, to enable families and relatives to visit," he said. "None of that happened."
Analysts and human rights workers say the severity of the crackdown in North Sinai is further alienating the already marginalized population of the region.
El-Mallahi is reported to have been about 30 years old. Egyptian authorities say the group he led was locally based, drawing its members from the area around El-Arish. But security analysts say it is likely that the group has some kind of ties to al-Qaida.