An Egyptian policeman was killed and four others wounded late on Tuesday in an attack by Islamic State group militants at a checkpoint near the famed Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, police said in a Facebook statement.
“A number of gunmen opened fire from an elevated hilltop overlooking a police checkpoint on the road to Saint Catherine’s in south Sinai shot at security forces at the checkpoint,” it said.
“Security forces exchanged fire and took control of the situation, injuring some of them and forcing them to flee,” it added.
The IS-affiliated Amaq news agency soon after announced that the group’s militants carried out the attack – the first time IS militants have attacked a monastery in Egypt.
Khalid Abu Hashem, the health ministry official for South Sinai province, told state television that the injured policemen were in a stable condition and had been taken to hospital in the nearby Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Saint Catherine’s monastery, a 6th century Christian site which lies some 500 kilometres south-east of Cairo in the south of the Sinai peninsula, attracts thousands of visitors a year.
The attack comes nine days after Palm Sunday services at Coptic Christian churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria were bombed by IS, killing 45 people.
The twin attacks prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare a three-month state of emergency and deploy armed forces to help police in guarding vital installations, including churches, across the country.
IS has threatened to carry out more attacks on the minority, which makes up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people.
Egypt is battling a jihadi insurgency in north Sinai that has killed hundreds of policemen and troops since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Morsi.
The attack comes shortly before a planned visit by the Vatican Pope Francis to Egypt next week.