Police shoot dead seven Egyptian militants: Islamists tell foreigners to leave the country for their own safety

CAIRO - Egyptian police shot dead seven Islamic militants during a three-hour siege, in the bloodiest 24 hours so far this year in the country's ongoing power struggle.

The Interior Minister, Hassan al-Alfi, said the security authorities would continue to attack violent militants in their hideouts. 'We will not rest as long as there is one terrorist on Egyptian soil. The operation will continue days and nights to quash terrorism,' he said.

The seven militants from the Gama'a el-Islamiya organisation were killed during a raid on a flat in north-east Cairo, where police said they recovered large quantities of ammunition and firearms. Two other militants were arrested and one policeman was wounded, security sources said. They said the militants were all from Dayrout, an Islamic stronghold.

The Gama'a group said yesterday that foreigners should leave the country for their own safety. 'We implore tourists and investors to leave the country because the next operations will be extremely ferocious and strong,' it said in a statement after the raid.

'We are forced to this to defend our faith, the values we hold sacred, and ourselves, in the face of the lack of law and of human rights which the dictatorial (President Hosni) Mubarak regime embodies,' the statement said.

In the southern town of Assiut two gunmen shot dead a state security policeman yesterday, apparently in retaliation for the killings in Cairo. Assiut police suspected the gunmen of belonging to the Gama'a group.

It was the bloodiest 24 hours in Egypt since 19 December last year, when nine people were killed in political violence.

Mr Alfi said dollars 10,000 ( pounds 6,800) was found with the militants 'which shows they are mercenaries and agents paid to carry out attacks to damage the country'. He said those killed were 'a dangerous group,' including militants on the run after previous crimes. Police had carried out the raid after a tip-off.

At least 290 people have been killed and 670 injured since the militants, who want a strict Islamic state, began their campaign of violence in 1992.

An Interior Ministry statement yesterday said that in the Cairo incident the 'terrorists' - the government's term for violent militants - opened fire first and the state security police fired back immediately.

Meanwhile, another group of Islamists plans to appeal against a court's refusal to declare a lecturer, Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, an apostate and annul his marriage.

A spokesman for the group, Youssef al-Badri, said yesterday: 'We won't leave him alone until he repents . . . until he admits he was an apostate and says that everything he has written is false.'

A judge ruled last week that he could not separate the Cairo University lecturer and his wife unless one of them requested it. Under Islamic law, the basis of Egyptian marriage law, non-Muslim or apostate men may not have Muslim wives.

Mr Abu Zeid says he is a good Muslim, but his approach to analysis of the Koran is unusually liberal.

BEIRUT - Al-Awja, a hitherto unknown Palestinian organisation, has claimed responsibility for the killing of a Jordanian diplomat, and warned Norway against hosting any more Arab-Israeli peace talks, according to the pro-Syrian As-Safir newspaper, AFP reports.