Egypt's Islamic State group affiliate murders priest in Sinai

Egypt's Islamic State group affiliate murders priest in Sinai
A Coptic priest has been shot dead in Egyptian city of al-Arish in North Sinai on Thursday, in an attack claimed by the country's Islamic State group affiliate.
2 min read
01 July, 2016
Dozens of Copts have been killed in sectarian attacks and clashes across Egypt [AFP]

An Egyptian Coptic priest has been murdered by an Islamic State group militant on Thursday in the restive Sinai Peninsula, officials said.

The priest, Raphael Moussa, 46, died instantly when a man shot him in the head as he was standing next to his car in al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai, said Boulos Halim, a church spokesman.

The Islamic State group's Egyptian branch claimed responsibility for the murder in a statement posted on social media, accusing the priest of "combating Islam".

The interior ministry said the priest was gunned down after traveling to an area of al-Arish with mechanics to have his car repaired.

The IS affiliate in Sinai has waged a bloody insurgency against the government, which has resulted in hundreds of policemen and soldiers killed.

A massive military campaign to uproot the jihadist fighters from the eastern peninsula - bordering the Gaza Strip - has resulted in civilian deaths and a wholescale clampdown on civil rights, angering residents further.

Moussa is not the first priest to be killed in Arish. Mina Aboud, another fellow priest, was shot dead on 6 July 2013.

The latest murder comes as the country marked the third anniversary of the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, unleashing a crackdown on dissent and a strengthening a jihadi insurgency.

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Apart from Christians and security forces, militants in the Sinai have also targeted Muslims they accuse of working with the government.

The group has also carried out attacks in the country's western desert and along the long border with Libya, which is also used by weapons and drug smugglers.

On Thursday, the military said "armed smugglers" killed six soldiers in an exchange of fire.

Militants have attacked foreign tourists and beheaded a Croatian oil worker after abducting him near Cairo.

IS also claimed responsibility for last October's bombing of a Russian airliner carrying holidaymakers from a resort in southern Sinai, killing all 224 people on board.

"The whole situation in al-Arish and [the] North Sinai is under threat," said Halim. "Many people have left."

Copts - who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 90-million population - faced persecution and discrimination during the 30-year rule of president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011.

Dozens have been killed in sectarian attacks and clashes across Egypt.

Agencies contributed to this report.