Egyptian police have identified 120 individuals in North Sinai who are allegedly wanted for attacking police stations and killing policemen, a security source in the area said on Wednesday.
The source told the state-owned MENA news agency that most of the wanted individuals follow "takfiri" ideology, a term for extremists who excommunicate other Muslims who do not share their beliefs.
“Their numbers are close to 1,600 people, from different provinces and some from other countries,” the source was quoted as having said.
Preliminary investigations suggest that these groups have received large funds, judging from the expensive four-wheel-drive vehicles they use, the source claimed, adding that the funder behind these groups would be exposed soon.
Most of the activists, he said, are from the lower layers of society, are single and do not have much income, facts which make them easy recruits for extremist organizations.
Egypt launched a crackdown on Sinai terrorism in response to a terror attack near the border with Israel earlier this month, in which 16 Egyptian officers were killed.
Reports in Israeli media this week said that Egypt had moved anti-aircraft missiles into the Sinai Peninsula without Israel’s permission. Such equipment is prohibited in Sinai by the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
An Egyptian military source, however, denied on Tuesday that his country was deploying troops in Sinai beyond the limitations stipulated in the 1979 Camp David Accords.
The source told the Al-Ahram newspaper that the operation is “well coordinated with both the Americans and Israelis.”
“The fact that contact between both sides has not been made known to the press does not mean it is not happening – actually it goes beyond mere information sharing and includes efforts to coordinate,” the source said.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told Al-Ahram that the operation falls within the scope of Egyptian "sovereignty over Sinai, all of Sinai."
On Tuesday, the Maariv Hebrew-language website reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has demanded that Egypt cease sending tanks into the Sinai without Israel's approval.
An Israeli government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, later confirmed to The New York Times that Israel is “troubled” by the entry of Egyptian tanks into the northern Sinai Peninsula without coordination with Israel and has asked Egypt to withdraw them.
The Israeli request was conveyed within the last few days, the official said, adding that it was likely that the Obama administration had made a similar approach to Cairo.