The leader of an al-Qaeda-inspired group in Egypt's restive Sinai and three of his associates were killed in a drive-by shooting in the peninsula, Egyptian security officials said.
The development on Thursday deals a heavy blow to the militant group, which has claimed scores of deadly attacks across Egypt since Islamist president Mohammed Mursi was ousted last July. It is also a boost for Egypt's military-backed authorities ahead of the country's presidential elections next week.
According to three senior security officials, Shadi el-Manaei, who headed Ansar Beit al-Maqdis - or the Champions of Jerusalem, as the group is also known - and the three other militants were found dead after unidentified gunmen sprayed their vehicle with bullets on a road in central Sinai.
The officials said that according to the police investigation, 15 men in vehicles and armed with automatic machine guns attacked el-Manaei's car to avenge the killings of tribesmen by his group.
The tribesmen were killed after the militants claimed they had cooperated with police against Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis first arose in Sinai, where for years militant groups largely made up of local Bedouin had carried out attacks, lobbing rockets into neighbouring Israel and opening fire on soldiers and police officers. Attacks escalated after the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, but increased dramatically after Mursi's overthrow by the military.
The group claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing targeting Egypt's interior minister in September, an attack from which he escaped unharmed. Scores of Egyptian police officers and soldiers have been killed in attacks by suspected Islamic militants since then. El-Manaei, the mastermind behind the group's attacks, has long been on the run.
The United States has designated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis a foreign terrorist organisation.