updated 5/9/2006 11:21:55 AM ET 2006-05-09T15:21:55

Police on Tuesday killed the leader of an al-Qaida-inspired Islamic militant group wanted for the terrorist attacks that killed 21 people in a Sinai beach resort town last month, officials said.

Nasser Khamis el-Mallahi, head of Egypt’s Monotheism and Jihad, was shot dead and an accomplice was captured in a battle with police in an olive grove, said Lt. Gen. Essam el-Sheik, commander of the North Sinai security police.

“This is a major blow to the terrorist group,” el-Sheik said.

The Interior Ministry congratulated the police in a statement that described el-Mallahi as “the mastermind and leader of the group that carried out the Dahab and el-Gorah explosions,” the semi-official Middle East News Agency reported.

Three bombs exploded almost simultaneously in the Red Sea resort of Dahab on April 24, killing 21 people. Two days later, suicide bombers attacked vehicles of the Egyptian police and an international peacekeeping force in el-Gorah, in the north Sinai, killing only themselves.

El-Mallahi, a 30-year-old father of three, led a group that also had been accused of carrying out attacks that killed 34 people in the Sinai resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan in October 2004 and one in Sharm el-Sheik that killed 64 people in July 2005.

Warning from Israel
The killing of el-Mallahi came a day after Israel warned its citizens to stay away from the Sinai Peninsula, a popular destination, because of an “increased threat of kidnapping of Israeli citizens on the Sinai coast.”

El-Sheik said security forces surrounded the grove south of El-Arish, a Mediterranean coastal city near the border with the Gaza Strip, after receiving a tip that el-Mallahi and his accomplice were hiding there. Bedouin scouts also had reported that the two suspects’ tracks led into the grove.

The battle lasted a little over 30 minutes. El-Sheik said the accomplice, Mohammed Abdullah Abu Grair, was captured after running out of ammunition. He was not wounded.

Police found automatic rifles and hand grenades that failed to detonate.

Hundreds of security officers celebrated in front of security police headquarters, chanting “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is Great!”

Egyptian authorities, apparently concerned about damaging the vital tourism industry, which earned $6.4 billion last year, have said the Sinai attacks were the work of local groups with no ties to outside terrorist organizations.

But foreign experts say the various terrorist groups operating around the Islamic world under the name Monotheism and Jihad are likely to have links to the international al-Qaida network.

The precise nature of the links is not clear.

The leader of the Iraqi version of Monotheism and Jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, changed the name of his group to al-Qaida in Iraq after swearing allegiance to Osama bin Laden. However, he is not believed to carry out attacks on the specific orders of bin Laden. The same is believed to be the case with other, less well-known groups, such as Monotheism and Jihad in Egypt.

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