Sisi defends anti-ISIS fight after Copts flee Sinai

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has defended his country's fight against the ISIS group, after dozens of Christian families fled the Sinai Peninsula following a string of jihadist attacks.

An ISIS affiliate waging an insurgency in the Sinai last week released a video calling for attacks on Egypt's Coptic Christian minority.

Dozens of families have left the peninsula after seven Christians were killed in suspected jihadist attacks, including a Copt murdered in the north Sinai city of El-Arish whose house was also burned.

“(The attacks aim to) destabilise the fabric of Egypt... to give the impression that one group isn't protected as it should be,” Sisi said in remarks broadcast on television late Tuesday.

“(The attacks make) people say that Egyptians are targeted in El-Arish and we are beginning to disunite. Some accuse the state of not helping them.”

Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 90-million population, say they are sidelined in both the education system and state institutions.

Jihadists and Islamists accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

The ISIS video last week included an anti-Christian speech by a militant who later detonated an explosive vest in a Coptic church in Cairo last December 11, killing 29 people.

“You say 'don't abandon the Sinai'. At a state level, that means the mobilisation of army and police forces,” Sisi said.

He said Egypt was bearing a “huge cost” in battling ISIS, and paid tribute to army and police “martyrs” killed in north Sinai.

The former army chief said security services were doing their utmost to protect civilians in the region.

“We are like a surgeon who wants to remove the danger without damaging the rest of the patient,” Sisi said.