Police and Muslim militants fought four separate gunbattles yesterday, killing 13 extremists and five others within 24 hours, authorities said. Those killed included three policemen. At least 17 people were injured.
The incidents were the highest 24-hour death toll since 1981 in an ongoing struggle between Egypt's secular government and Muslim fundamentalists trying to replace it with a strict Islamic state.
The worst single incident occurred Tuesday night at the southern city of Aswan, where seven extremists died and at least 15 were injured in a gunfight with police surrounding their mosque to prevent a protest march.
That clash, according to an Interior Ministry spokesman, prompted security sweeps against extremists in Cairo's Imbaba district, Giza to the south, and Qaliubiya Province to the north of the capital. "You can call them concerted operations," said the spokesman.
Extremists in the past few months have been attacking foreign tourists in an attempt to deprive the government of foreign currency. Their strategy has been working. Revenue from tourism has plummeted by as much as 70 percent since last fall when a British woman died and two other Britons and five Germans were wounded in two attacks in southern Egypt.
Last week the extremists threatened to attack foreign investors if they did not pull out of Egypt. The warning was made by Gamaa Islamiya or Islamic Group, whose spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, preaches at the New Jersey mosque where a Palestinian suspected in the World Trade Center bombing worships.
The Aswan shootout occurred a few hours after a military court near Cairo began hearing the case against 49 Muslim extremists charged with terrorism, including attacks on tourists.
Some of the defendants opened the trial by professing allegiance to Sheikh Rahman and claiming the Gamaa was responsible for assassinating Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
Rahman previously was acquitted by an Egyptian court of ordering Sadat's murder.