CAIRO, Egypt -- Egyptian authorities, faced with a growing wave of Islamic fundamentalist violence, unleashed a major new crackdown against suspected extremists yesterday that left 26 people dead and at least 40 others wounded.
The death toll, which resulted from a series of shootouts at extremist hide-outs in and around Cairo and at a fundamentalist mosque in the southern city of Aswan, was the highest in a single day since the abortive Islamic uprising that followed the assassination of former President Anwar el Sadat in 1981.
Among the dead were three police officers, killed as they sought to arrest Islamic militants suspected in a series of recent attacks on police officers and Christian jewelry shop owners throughout Egypt.
Also killed were the wife and baby of one of the suspects, Khalifa Mahmoud Ramadan, sought in connection with the assassination of a police officer last year.
Mr. Ramadan was killed and the Interior Ministry said his family was shot "because the extremists used them as a shield in trying to escape."
The mosque looked like a battleground after the shooting, Reuters reported. All of its 14 windows were blown out, and reporters who managed to see inside past security forces saw bullet pockmarks and blast damage on the walls.
Carpets were bloodstained; prayer mats lay torn among stones and rubble. A trampled Koran lay among shards of glass. Abandoned shoes littered the doorway -- some kicked into the road as their owners fled.
The clashes came less than two weeks after a bomb destroyed a crowded coffee shop in downtown Cairo, killing three. The homemade explosive, packed with nails, blew up on the same day a truckload of explosives was blown up at New York's World Trade Center, reportedly by an apparent follower of Egyptian fundamentalist cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.
The blind sheik's underground organization, the Gamaa al-Islamiya (Islamic Group), has denied responsibility for both bombings, though Sheik Rahman has repeatedly criticized foreign tourists for bringing immoral behavior into Egypt and spreading AIDS.
The Gamaa, which has declared war on foreign tourism, stepped up the campaign last week by announcing that foreign residents and investors would also become targets of Islamic militants' "legitimate retribution."
With fundamentalist violence rising throughout Egypt, authorities have swept Islamic hotbeds throughout the country since late last year, arresting more than 2,000 suspects, and opened a major new military trial against 43 Muslim activists suspected in a wave of attacks against foreign tourists in Egypt.
The defendants have proclaimed Sheik Rahman their leader, and at the opening day of their trial in Cairo on Tuesday one of them, Hisham Abdel Zaher, asserted that their movement was responsible for Mr. Sadat's assassination and, more recently, that of a noted secularist author opposed to the radical Islamic movement in Egypt.
The fundamentalists are seeking to overthrow the regime of President Hosni Mubarak and replace it with an Islamic state faithful to the principles of Islamic law. Similar movements are working against Arab governments throughout the Middle East.
"If terrorism and extremism means legitimate self-defense and the defense of our religion and honor, we welcome terrorism," Mr. Zaher declared.