Sinai militants behead four for 'spying for Israel'
Egypt's most active militant group, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, said on Thursday it had beheaded four Egyptian men for spying for Israel, accusing them of providing information that helped an Israeli air raid kill three of the group's fighters last month.
Earlier in August, decapitated bodies of four men were found by residents in the Sinai Peninsula, security sources said, adding that the victims might have been targeted for perceived cooperation with the army and police. The men had been abducted two days earlier in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid.
The Al-Qaeda-inspired group said the four captives provided intelligence to Israel which it used in an airstrike on 23 July that killed three of its fighters in North Sinai. It vowed that its "security apparatus will trace spies and [their] movements until they purge Jews and their collaborators from Muslim countries."
In the footage released on Twitter, four men confessed they had been spying for Israel's Mossad spy agency before having their heads cut minutes later.
The video showed gunmen in black masks standing behind blindfolded kneeling hostages, hands cuffed behind their backs, with Al-Qaeda flags shown in the background. Towards the end of the 29-minute video, one militant reads out a statement before he goes on to execute the captives. It was not immediately clear if the corpses found over a week ago belong to the decapitated victims in the video.
Before the decapitations, the captives claimed the Israeli spy agency sought intelligence about Islamist fighters and extremists in Sinai as well as the army's movements in the underdeveloped region.
One of the men said he was behind a car bombing late in July that killed Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis leader Khaled Al-Menei.
Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula, adjoining Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, are fighting an Islamist insurrection that has worsened since the army's ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Militant attacks have mainly targeted police and troops but have also led to civilian casualties.
Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis urged "spies" to repent saying: "Our objective is not to behead you but keep you away from harming Muslims and if you refuse… by God you will be slaughtered."
The filmed killings, one of the most brutal by the group, are evocative of decapitations and executions carried out by the Islamic State, whose fighters have seized great swathes of Syria and northern Iraq.
Egyptian security officials say they fear militants in strife-torn Libya near Egypt's border have joined forces with fighters based in Sinai.
Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, based in Sinai and formed in the wake of the 2011 uprising, has claimed responsibility for several high-profile attacks, including downing a military helicopter early in 2014 and an assassination attempt on Egypt's interior minister in Cairo last year.
The group has mainly utilised booby-trap cars and hand grenades in their attacks against army and police, which it says are to avenge the killing and arrest of Islamists in a broad state crackdown following Morsi's removal.
Last April, the United States and Egypt designated the group a terrorist organisation.