Troops on Monday stormed a town in central Egypt held for the past month by hardline Islamists, arresting dozens accused of burning churches and terrorising residents, officials said.
Soldiers and police entered Delga in Minya province just after dawn, firing tear gas and searching homes for suspects, a security official told AFP.
By Monday afternoon, 56 arrests had been made and weapons seized, the official said.
“The situation was brought under control in half an hour and, thank God, there were no casualties,” Minya governor Salah Ziada said.
All 32 roads into the town of 120,000 people were sealed off and a daytime curfew imposed as authorities regained Delga, held for 31 days by loyalists of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, state news agency MENA said.
Rights groups had slammed the security forces’ slow response in dealing with the crisis.
But the governor said authorities had wanted to avoid a bloody standoff.
“We were late because we were worried for people’s lives,” Ziada said in a phone-in on state television.
Since the Islamists’ takeover, three churches were torched, dozens of Christian homes burned and two Copts killed, according to Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
At least 100 families also fled the town fearing for their lives, Ibrahim said on his Twitter account.
The raid on the town comes amid a massive crackdown on Islamists following the military’s ouster of Morsi on July 3 that plunged the country deeper into turmoil.
In mid-August, police and soldiers broke up two massive pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo in an operation that killed hundreds of people and further polarised the country.
A transition plan drawn up by the army-backed interim government calls for fresh parliamentary elections and a presidential vote by mid-2014.