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Troops kill rebel leader in Sinai

Egyptian troops have killed a leader of an al-Qaida linked group in the troubled northern Sinai Peninsula, the latest blow to the myriad of militant organisations operating in the region.

Mohammed Hussein Muhareb and his son were killed after troops closed in on his motorcade. Muhareb was wanted for taking part in various attacks against troops in the region.

Muhareb, 62, known by his alias Abu Mounir, was the main suspect and leader of a militant cell believed to be behind the August raid that killed 25 Egyptian police conscripts, one of the worst ever militant attacks against troops in northern Sinai.

In the latest of a stepped-up campaign of attacks against troops, a suicide car bomb hit a bus convoy of off-duty Egyptian soldiers last week in the Sinai Peninsula, killing 11 soldiers and wounding 37.

The northern Sinai region, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, has been restless for years. Extremist militants operate in disparate groups there and are believed to have grown in numbers since the political upheaval following the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, largely due to a negligible police presence in the area.

But attacks have grown more frequent since last July's overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, who had pursued a policy of negotiating with militant groups in the region.

This summer, government troops intensified their raids in towns and villages there, killing and arresting a number of suspects.

Muhareb is widely respected among the various militant groups in Sinai, and was a leading figure in a radical group known as Takfir wil-Hijra.

The movement's members, dubbed "Takfiris," lead secretive, isolated lives where anything and anyone that does not adhere to their rigid interpretation of Islam is deemed heretical - including the government and its security forces.

Another leading member of the group, Abdel-Fatah Hassan Salem, was arrested late last month.

-AP

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