An Egyptian policeman was killed and four others injured after Islamic State (IS) militants attacked a checkpoint leading to the internationally famous Mount Saint Catherine monastery in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
A statement released by the Egyptian foreign ministry said an exchange of gunfire erupted late Tuesday after a group of gunmen opened fire on the police at the checkpoint, Egypt’s Al Ahram newspaper reported.
The four injured policemen were transferred to Sharm El Sheikh’s international hospital on the peninsula, while the body of the policeman who was killed was transferred to Saint Catherine Hospital.
Saint Catherine monastery is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Egypt and a major tourist attraction.
The attack followed the bombing two weeks ago of two Christian Coptic Churches, one in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria and the other in the Nile Delta area north of Cairo, which killed 45 people on Palm Sunday, one of the holiest Christian days on the calendar.
IS-affiliated militants in Egypt claimed responsibility for the twin attacks.
Egypt has been fighting an Islamist insurgency which has targeted Christians and Egyptian security forces on both the mainland and in the Sinai.
The fighting intensified in 2013 after the military coup which overthrew the country’s first-ever democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood.
A battle for hearts and minds has accompanied the military campaign with Cairo’s Al Azhar University – one of the oldest universities in the Islamic world, built in 970, and considered a seat of Islamic scholarly learning – fighting off accusations that it has been encouraging extremism.
Al Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars defended its teachings on Tuesday amid criticism in Egypt that its curriculums foster extremism and sectarianism.
In an official statement released following a meeting presided over by the grand imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed El Tayyeb, the council described itself as “the only ones mandated to teach righteous Islamic dogma that spreads peace and stability between Muslims themselves and between Muslims and others”.
The statement added that the council stood with the country’s minority Coptic Christians and condemned the attacks on their churches.
The criticism of Al Azhar has risen in conjunction with the increase in attacks carried out by IS militants.
Some public figures have accused the Islamic institution, which has branches all over Egypt and several abroad, of spreading extremism through its teachings and syllabuses and by its public decision not to formally declare IS militants apostates, reported Al Ahram.