CAIRO (AP) — Egypt celebrated the army’s 2013 overthrow of an Islamist president with a new national holiday on Thursday, a day that also saw a series of deadly militant attacks in Sinai and clashes with smugglers near the nation’s porous border with Libya.
In Cairo, warplanes flew overhead in honor of the holiday as supporters of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — who as defense minister led the ouster of Mohammed Morsi three years ago — planned rallies later in the day.
The day was punctured by violence in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic militants killed a Christian priest and two members of the security forces in separate attacks, according to security and medical officials. Later Thursday, six members of the security forces, including two officers, were killed in a gun battle with smugglers on Egypt’s western border, according to a statement by military spokesman Brig-Gen. Mohammed Samir.
Three others were wounded and later flown to a military hospital in the Egyptian capital for treatment, according to the security officials. Following the incident, army troops under air cover combed the area, searching for the culprits.
The smugglers were trying to infiltrate from Libya, said the statement, adding that an unspecified number of them was killed in the clash.
Egypt’s border with Libya, where Islamic militants have found a foothold since the 2011 ouster and killing of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, has been a major supply line for Islamic extremists fighting Egyptian security forces in Sinai.
In Port Fuad, a twin city of Port Said on the northern tip of the Suez Canal, a suspected militant stabbed to death a police colonel outside his home, according to the security officials. The policeman served in Port Said’s security headquarters, said the officials.
Thursday’s violence came one day after el-Sissi urged his country’s security forces and agencies to stop anyone from “spoiling” the June 30 occasion. He did not elaborate, but he appeared to be referring to possible protests by Morsi supporters or militant attacks.
Back in 2013, millions of Egyptians took to the streets on June 30, to call for Morsi to step down, just a year after he took office as Egypt’s first freely elected president. El-Sissi announced Morsi’s ouster on July 3, 2013, and authorities later detained thousands of Morsi supporters and banned his Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.
In custody since, Morsi has been sentenced to death in one trial and long prison terms in several others. He is appealing his convictions on a range of charges, including a prison break, leaking secret documents and conspiring with foreign terror groups against Egypt.
Thursday’s holiday, which the government refers to as the “June 30 Revolution” and which it announced earlier this week, will be also marked with musical performances and free entry to museums.
In the ancient southern city of Luxor, hot-air balloons carrying Egyptian flags flew over pharaonic temples and authorities planned a parade along the Nile River.
“On this glorious day, I would like to assure you that we are working hard to realize the hopes of the Egyptian people for the better future they deserve,” el-Sissi, elected to office in 2014, said in a pre-recorded address to the nation.
“The June 30 Revolution reasserts the impossibility of imposing a status quo on the Egyptian people. Anyone who imagines that he can successfully do that is deluding himself,” he said, alluding to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
In Thursday’s attacks, the priest, Mussa Azmy, was gunned down while walking in the city of el-Arish. The Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the killing in a statement posted on social media websites sympathetic to the group. It said the priest was a “warrior against Muslims,” but did not elaborate.
Outside the city’s main hospital, a bomb blast killed one policeman and wounded two. And in a Sinai village near the border town of Rafah, a bomb blast badly wounded a soldier. The soldier was wounded again when an ambulance taking him to el-Arish, escorted by an armored vehicle, was ambushed by militants, killing another soldier, according to the officials.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
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