Egypt's interior ministry on Tuesday (April 14th) said its forces have eliminated a seven-member cell in the eastern Cairo suburb of al-Amiriya that had been planning to carry out "terrorist attacks" during Easter.
Security agencies "acted immediately" after receiving information that "a terror cell whose members embrace takfiri ideology" had been hiding out in residential units in eastern Cairo while planning an Easter attack, the ministry said.
"The elements of that cell were tracked and dealt with," the ministry said, adding that "the confrontation ended when the forces stormed the apartment and killed all cell members".
"Seven terrorist elements were killed," and weapons and ammunition found in their possession were seized, it added, noting that security forces also discovered a "weapons and ammunition depot" in nearby al-Matriya.
Egyptian military officer Lt. Col. Mohammed Fawzi al-Houfi was killed during a gun-battle that broke out during the raid, which lasted several hours, and another officer and two policemen were wounded, the ministry said.
Special operations forces closed in on the cell in al-Amiriya's Ezzbet Shahin neighbourhood, which is located in a strategic area that facilitates movement to and from a number of places in Cairo.
The cell was apprehended before it could carry out its plans to target police checkpoints and churches in southern and eastern Cairo during Easter, the ministry said.
Coptic Christians celebrate Orthodox Easter on April 19th, though the Coptic church earlier announced it will close churches and suspend services preceding Easter as part of efforts to stem the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The cell members had been manufacturing explosives, the ministry said, and six automatic rifles, four birdshot rifles and a quantity of ammunition were found in their possession.
TV stations aired live feeds of the security operation.
The shootout lasted several hours, going beyond the 8 p.m. start of the nighttime curfew imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, a security source told AFP.
Investigation has been opened
Egypt's Attorney-General Hamada al-Sawi ordered an immediate investigation into the incident, and a team from the Supreme State Security Prosecution moved in to inspect the scene.
Egypt's cabinet sent condolences to the Interior Ministry and to the family of Lt. Col. al-Houfi, while wishing the wounded policemen a speedy recovery.
The "forces of terrorism are trying to exploit the current circumstances in the country and its pre-occupation with the battle against coronavirus to carry out despicable operations", said Maj. Gen. Kamal Amer, who chairs the parliamentary national security and defence committee.
"But the security forces are on full alert, and are launching pre-emptive operations to thwart potential terrorist attacks," he said.
"The Egyptian state is steadfast in its strategy and determination to combat terrorist groups that seek to undermine the country's stability and security," he added.
"This confrontation, in which the Interior Ministry's forces were able to attack the terrorist hideout, has spared the country potential strikes that these terror cells were planning," he said.