CAIRO - Shadi al-Menei, the head of a Sinai Peninsula Islamist militant group, was shot dead on Friday by unknown assailants, security sources said, days before Egypt holds elections to vote for a new president.
The security sources said al-Menei and five others were killed in a firefight while walking in Maghara in central Sinai.
Al-Menei was the head of Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, or "Defenders of Jerusalem," which was responsible for several recent attacks on security forces in Egypt.
A statement on the army spokesman's official Facebook page said the army executed an operation that resulted in the killing of six extremely dangerous criminal elements on Thursday. It did not name Menei and it was not immediately clear if the statement was referring to the same incident.
Separately, one security officer was shot dead by unknown assailants at a security checkpoint in the North Sinai town of Rafah, near the border with Israel, state news agency MENA reported early on Friday.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis said it had carried out the rocket launches against Eilat, claiming responsibility for the January attack, adding that it was undeterred by Egyptian security sweeps.
“Jews must understand that our war with the enemy inside will not make us forget the prime enemy of the [Muslim] nation, who occupies the land and defiles the sacred places,” Ansar said in a statement.
Also in January, the Islamist group claimed responsibility for bombing of a tourist bus in Sinai that killed three South Koreans and their Egyptian driver in a suicide attack carried out by one of its fighters, and threatened more strikes against economic targets.
“Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has successfully sacrificed one of its heroes to detonate the bus headed toward the Zionists, and this comes as part of our economic war against this regime of traitors,” the group said in a statement.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for several other bombings, including an attempt to kill the interior minister in Cairo in 2013. The organization said it was also behind a missile attack on a military helicopter that killed five soldiers.
Islamist militants in the Sinai stepped up their attacks against army and police forces last year after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013.
The army then launched a major ongoing operation to fight militants in the Sinai.
Egypt is gearing up to hold fresh elections next week, which former army chief and presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led Mursi's ouster, is widely expected to win.
Yaakov Lapin contributed to this report.