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Islamic State claims attack near Egyptian monastery

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Saint Catherine's monastery in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt

A policeman was killed and four others wounded on Tuesday when gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint near St Catherine's monastery in Egypt's Sinai, the Egyptian interior ministry said.

The Palm Sunday attack prompted President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to declare a three-month state of emergency and deploy armed forces to help police in guarding vital installations, including churches across the country.

So-called Islamic State group said its fighters carried out the attack. The incident took place at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St.Catherine, a site of pilgrimage for christianity.

Egypt is tightening security ahead of a visit by Pope Francis next week.

In retaliatory firing by police, some attackers were injured which forced them to flee, the statement added.

While the militant group has wreaked havoc in the northern Sinai in the past few years, southern Sinai had not seen major Daesh activity before Tuesday's attack.

The monastery lies at the foot of Mount Sinai, famous as the spot where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

The April 9 church bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria followed a December suicide bombing in a Cairo church that killed 29 people, also claimed by IS. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is known to have contained ancient Bible texts and manuscripts.

The country's Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the total population, has become a frequent target of militants over the past several months.

The ISIS-led insurgency in the region is centred in northern Sinai, but the militants have occasionally struck in the central and south regions of the peninsula. However, attacks in the south Sinai, which is dotted with Red Sea resorts and is a popular destination for tourists, are by contrast rare.

According to the military, one of the senior figures killed was responsible for conducting interrogations within the IS affiliate and another was in charge of a committee on religious affairs.

Egyptian Coptic Christians prepare to pray during the Easter Eve service at St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo after an attack on the church on Palm Sunday.

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