CAIRO — Egyptian helicopter gunships and tanks pounded suspected Islamic militant hideouts and weapon caches Saturday in the northern Sinai Peninsula in what locals say is the largest operation in the lawless region in years.
Nine militants and two soldiers were killed during the raids, security officials said.
Officials say that the military is hunting hundreds of militants believed to be responsible for a series of attacks in the region, which they overran after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011. The militants, officials say, belong to a number of well-known al-Qaida-inspired groups that want an Islamic Caliphate established in northern Sinai, a region bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Prompting the military offensive, attacks in the region have increased since the July 3 military coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist.
Early Saturday, residents say they saw winding columns of trucks and armored vehicles pour into the area. Some said they hadn't seen soldiers on foot in their villages in decades. Communications were jammed for hours, as authorities seized control of two telephone exchanges.
Military helicopters hovered overhead in a dozen villages concentrated near two border towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweyid, security officials said. Airstrikes targeted shacks believed to be gathering points of militants, they said. Soldiers later stormed homes searching for suspected fighters.
In a statement, army spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said nine suspected militants were killed on Saturday and nine others detained.
Other officials said two soldiers were killed in a nighttime attack by militants in Sheikh Zuweyid in northern Sinai. The soldiers were there as part of the offensive.
Though troops arrested some suspected militants, others escaped to mountainous areas in central Sinai, an official said.
The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly brief journalists.
New charges: In Cairo, the prosecutor general announced new charges against Morsi, saying the deposed leader had insulted the judiciary in one of his last speeches by accusing 22 judges of forging election results in 2005, according to the state news agency MENA. The prosecutor ordered Morsi held in four-day detention pending further investigation. He has been held in an undisclosed location since the military overthrew him.