EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — Senior Egyptian security officials say the top leader of an al-Qaida-inspired group in restive Sinai and three associates have been killed in a drive-by shooting in the peninsula.
The development is a heavy blow to the militant group, which has claimed scores of deadly attacks across Egypt since the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last July.
The officials say Shadi al-Menaie, who headed Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, and the three other militants from the group were found dead after unidentified gunmen sprayed their vehicle with bullets in central Sinai on Thursday.
Three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Egypt holds presidential elections next week.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Egyptian police on Thursday beat protesters with batons and rifle butts to disperse a rally held to denounce a rights lawyer's two-year prison sentence, two activists said.
The protest in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria attracted about 150 participants and lasted only 10 minutes, according to the two activists, Ranwa Youssef and attorney Mohammed Ramadan.
The rally was in support of Mahienour el-Masry, a rights lawyer convicted earlier this year of breaking a controversial law that bans public demonstrations without advance police approval. She was sentenced to two years in prison.
The police attacked the protesters just as Thursday's gathering was ending and later stormed offices of a volunteer agency nearby where many of the activists had met earlier, said Youssef and Ramadan.
They said police confiscated computers belonging to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and arrested 19 activists at the rally and at the NGO's offices. Four were later released, two lawyers and two women, they said.
Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The convicted activist, el-Masry, has joined several icons of Egypt's 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak who have been imprisoned under the controversial law on demonstrations, adopted late last year.
Egypt's retired army chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi who is the front-runner in next week's presidential elections, says he will keep the law if elected in the May 26-27 vote.
Many pro-democracy activists maintain the imprisonment of the icons of the 2011 uprising is part of a concerted campaign to isolate and stain the reputation of the youth leaders of the anti-Mubarak revolt.
At the same time, there has been a massive crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which Mubarak's successor, Mohammed Morsi, hails. The Islamist Morsi was ousted by el-Sissi last July.
At least 16,000 Brotherhood members and allies have been jailed and hundreds have been killed during protests since July. Morsi and most other senior group leaders are in detention.
El-Masry had remained free until Tuesday, when her conviction and sentence were upheld. She was also fined 50,000 pounds (nearly $7,000).
Also Thursday, a Christian was killed and two people, a Christian and a Muslim, were wounded when they were caught in the crossfire between two feuding groups of Muslims in the southern city of Luxor.
The three were outside an Anglican church in the city center when the shooting took place, said the city's security chief, Mustafa Bakr.
Since Morsi's ouster, Luxor has seen a series of attacks on Christians and their churches, blamed on Islamic militants, but Bakr appeared to rule out sectarian motives in Thursday's shooting.
Egypt's Coptic Christian make up about 10 percent of the country's estimated 90 million citizens. They have long complained of discrimination by the Muslim majority, but the two communities have generally lived in peace with each other.