Egyptian authorities have executed as many as 15 prisoners who were convicted of carrying out terrorist attacks in the restive Sinai Peninsula. The mass execution is seen as a move to instil fear among the Islamists in the region.

Prison facilities, Borg al-Arab and Wadi al-Natron, in northern Egypt, hanged the militants on Tuesday, 26 December, simultaneously. They were found guilty of killing Egyptian soldiers and carrying out assassinations in 2013. They were sentenced to death by a military court earlier.

The executed men were thought to have pledged allegiance to the Egyptian arm of Islamic State (Isis) which has been attacking security forces and their facilities in recent years. The latest extremist attack on a mosque claimed more than 300 lives. The attack was blamed on Isis, but the group has not claimed responsibility for it.

This is thought to be the first such mass execution since six Islamists were hanged in 2015 for similar charges. This brings the total number of executions to 23 since the military took over from the democratically elected government of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.

Rights groups are worried that such harsh punishments by the government would only push young men towards the Isis and force them to take up arms.

"This is the new wave of oppression that we have been expecting all year. These executions will only push the thousands of young people in prison into the arms of Daesh," Ezzat Ghoniem, a lawyer who defends members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, told the New York Times.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has ordered the security personnel to boost their efforts in combating violence, which has seen a sharp surge across Egypt in recent years. Particularly in the northern Sinai region, the military has been asked to step up its offensive against Islamist forces following the recent mosque attack.

"We will respond to this act with brute force against these terrorists," the Egyptian president had said in a televised address following the attack. "This terrorist act will strengthen our resolve, steadfastness and will to stand up to, resist and battle against terrorism."

Egypt bombing
Egyptians walk past bodies following a gun and bombing attack at the Rawda mosque, roughly 40 kilometres west of the North Sinai capital of El-Arish, on 24 November 2017 STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images