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Pentagon chief pledges support for Egypt's Sisi
by Staff Writers
Cairo (AFP) April 20, 2017


Egypt army says senior IS cleric killed in Sinai
Cairo (AFP) April 20, 2017 - The Egyptian military said Thursday it killed a senior Islamic State group cleric and 18 jihadists in air strikes in the Sinai Peninsula where the extremists are waging an insurgency.

The announcement came after the jihadists claimed a series of attacks, including a shooting near a monastery this week and twin church bombings on April 9 that killed dozens.

Among the jihadists killed was "one of the prominent leaders of the so-called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the head of the religious affairs committee in the group," the military said, without saying when the strikes occurred.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was the name used by the jihadists in the Sinai before they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in November 2014.

The jihadists have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The military has killed several of their top leaders, but the extremists have increasingly expanded their attacks from the Sinai to other parts of Egypt, especially against Christians.

The April 9 church bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria followed a December suicide bombing in a Cairo church that killed 29 people, also claimed by IS.

On Wednesday, the interior ministry said security forces killed a gunman suspected of killing a policeman and wounding three others near St Catherine's monastery in south Sinai the day before.

IS, which claimed the shooting, has threatened more attacks on Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of more than 90 million people.

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and top brass in Cairo on Thursday, pledging support for the American ally on his first regional tour.

The brief visit, with Mattis later setting off to Israel, came after Sisi hit it off with Trump during a White House meeting earlier this month.

Sisi's visit marked a shift in relations after Trump's predecessor Barack Obama had given the Egyptian leader the cold shoulder for leading the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Obama temporarily suspended military aid to Egypt following a bloody crackdown on Morsi's supporters.

Trump, however, has set aside criticism of Sisi's human rights record while pledging to maintain support for the key US ally which receives an annual $1.3 billion in military aid.

The meeting "addressed aspects of military and security cooperation between the two countries and ways to further enhance them," the president's office said in a statement.

Sisi told Mattis he wanted to "strengthen the ongoing military cooperation between the two countries," it said.

Mattis in turn "reiterated the US's commitment to reinvigorating these relations and broadening prospects for cooperation," it added.

After meeting Sisi, Mattis held talks with Defence Minister Sedki Sobhi at his headquarters, where he was received with a marching band playing the US national anthem.

"We've always had an open relationship," he told Sobhi.

After the meeting, Mattis participated in a wreath laying ceremony at Cairo's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

He then prepared to fly on to Israel on the next leg of his tour, which started in Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, the talks touched on the military's counterinsurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where an Islamic State group affiliate has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.

Mattis "affirmed Egypt's pivotal role in the Middle East and commended its counter-terrorism efforts," the president's office said.

The insurgency in the Sinai took off after Morsi's ouster with the Islamic State group increasingly expanding its attacks to other parts of Egypt.

It claimed two church bombings in the cities of Alexandria and Tanta on April 9 that killed 45 people, months after a deadly Cairo church bombing.

On Thursday, the military announced it had killed a top IS cleric in Sinai air strikes, along with 18 other jihadists.

The Pentagon is also concerned with preventing jihadists from crossing Libya's porous border with Egypt and the reported presence of Russian troops in Egypt's western desert, which Cairo has denied.

After Israel, Mattis will return to the Gulf on Saturday for talks in Qatar.

SUPERPOWERS
Swedish government increases defense spending
Washington (UPI) Apr 19, 2017
The Swedish government has allocated $55.6 million in additional funding to increase its defense capabilities in 2017. According to the Ministry of Defense, about $45.04 million will fund increased preparedness of military units and strengthen anti-aircraft capabilities of forces on it's Gotland island. Improvement of the military's cybersecurity capabilities and the purchase of ... read more

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