Police killed Tuesday an Al Qaeda-inspired militant who masterminded last month's attacks in north and south Sinai that killed 23 people, said the local police command.

Nasser Khamis el-Mallahi, the head of Egypt's Monotheism and Jihad, was shot dead and his accomplice captured in a gunbattle in an olive grove on Tuesday morning, said the commander of North Sinai security police, Lt. Gen. Essam el-Sheik.

"This is a major blow to the terrorist group," el-Sheik said. Hundreds of security officers were seen celebrating the success in front of the security police headquarters later Tuesday, chanting "Allahu Akbar," or God is Great.

CountryWatch: Egypt

The Interior Ministry congratulated the police in a statement that described el-Mallahi as "the mastermind and leader of the group that carried out the Dahab and el-Gorah explosions," the semi-official Middle East News Agency reported.

Three bombs exploded almost simultaneously in the Red Sea resort of Dahab on April 24, killing 21 people. Two days later, suicide bombers attacked vehicles of the Egyptian police and the international peacekeeping force in el-Gorah, north Sinai. They killed only themselves; nobody else was wounded.

Tuesday's killing came a day after Israel warned its citizens to stay away from the Sinai, a popular destination with Israeli tourists, because of an "increased threat of kidnapping of Israeli citizens on the Sinai coast."

El-Sheik said security forces surrounded the olive grove in el-Karama district, south of El-Arish, after receiving a tip that el-Mallahi and his accomplice were hiding there. Bedouin scouts had also reported that tracks of two suspects led into the grove.

The gunbattle lasted a little over 30 minutes. El-Sheik said the accomplice, Mohammed Abdullah Abu Grair, was captured after running out of ammunition. He was not wounded.

Police found automatic rifles and hand-grenades that failed to detonate.

El-Mallahi, 30, was married to a Palestinian and had three children, police said.

His group, Monotheism and Jihad, has also been accused of carrying out the attacks in the Sinai resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan in October 2004 and in Sharm el-Sheik in July 2005.

Sinai-based militants have carried out three major attacks on the Peninsula's tourist resorts during the past two years, killing about 120 people in total.

Egyptian authorities are at pains to say the attacks were the work of local groups that have no ties to outside terrorist organizations, apparently concerned about damaging the tourism industry. Tourism is a major source of Egypt's foreign exchange, earning US$6.4 billion last year.

The precise Al Qaeda links of the various terrorist groups operating under the name Monotheism and Jihad are not clear. The groups are inspried by Usama bin Laden, whose goal is an Islamic caliphate throughout the Muslim world.

The leader of the Iraqi version of Monotheism and Jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, changed the name of his group to Al Qaeda in Iraq after swearing allegiance to bin Laden. However, he is not believed to carry out attacks on the specific orders of bin Laden. The same is believed to be the case with other, less well-know groups, such as Monotheism and Jihad in Egypt.