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Islamic State accuses Israel of slaying jihadist leader in Sinai airstrike

Terror group says Abu Omar al-Ansari killed as Egyptian army launches new campaign in northern part of desert, with Israeli air support

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Islamic State's affiliate Sinai Province at weapons training, February 6, 2016 (illustrative image: Telegram.me/HaiAlaElJehad5 via MEMRI)
Islamic State's affiliate Sinai Province at weapons training, February 6, 2016 (illustrative image: Telegram.me/HaiAlaElJehad5 via MEMRI)

The Islamic State terror organization claimed Thursday the Israeli Air Force helped assassinate a local jihadist group leader in Egypt’s Sinai Desert in April.

In its weekly al-Naba newspaper, Islamic State said Abu Omar al-Ansari, a military leader in the terror group’s so-called Sinai Province, was killed by “Jewish planes” as the Egyptian army launched a new campaign against the group.

The report said Israeli jets and drones have intensified their air support for the Egyptian army in the past month, in its fight against jihadist group members in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

“This greatly limits the ability of the Mujahideen to move and maneuver,” a security source was quoted as saying in the Islamic State publication.

It was not clear exactly when or where al-Ansari was killed.

Egypt is battling an Islamic State-led insurgency in the Sinai that intensified after the military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. The terrorists have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting Egyptian security forces and Christians.

On Saturday, suspected Islamic State terrorists blew up a natural gas pipeline in northern Sinai.

In 2018, it was reported that Israeli drones, fighter jets, and helicopter gunships carried out more than 100 airstrikes against Islamic State-affiliated terrorists over a two-year period in the area, close to Israel’s border.

While security coordination between Jerusalem and Cairo is known to be close, the ties are unpopular in Egypt, despite nearly three decades of official peace. In order to keep the cooperation under wraps, the Israeli aircraft are often unmarked and sometimes use indirect routes in a bid to cover up the origin of the strikes, The New York Times reported at the time.

Israeli and Egyptian officials have refused to confirm or comment on the reports.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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