Militants shoot down Egyptian helicopter


Islamic militants in North Sinai have released a video which appears to show them shooting down an Egyptian military Mi8/17 transport helicopter, the first time militants have successfully targeted an Egyptian military aircraft.

The Ansar Bayt al-Maqdi group has claimed responsibility for the downing of the helicopter on Saturday near the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwayed. The video posted online shows the militants using what appears to be an SA-7 Grail missile to attack the aircraft. After being hit, the helicopter catches fire and dives into the ground.

The Egyptian military said all five people on board were killed in the crash, which it claims was an accident. However, the New York Times said that the shoot-down was corroborated by witnesses and other sources. The helicopter was pursuing militants in the Sinai peninsula at the time, according to the Egyptian military.

Egyptian military forces have been fighting militants in the Sinai peninsula, many of them linked to militant groups in Palestine. Violence against security forces has been escalating, with four soldiers killed on Sunday when their bus was ambushed in central Sinai. Six bombs exploded in Cairo on Friday and Saturday, with some of these attacks being claimed by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdi.

Egypt has intercepted man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) looted from neighbouring Libya and these have proliferated across the region. Israel has expressed concern that militants in Sinai and the Gaza Strip have for some time had access to surface-to-air missiles.

The use of surface-to-air missiles in the Sinai could impact negatively on tourism – the BBC reports that Dutch charter airline Transavia cancelled flights to Sharm el-Sheikh in October because of concerns about such attacks. Neighbouring countries have warned airlines their aircraft could be targeted by MANPADS when taking off and landing.