The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State (Isis) group has claimed to have beheaded two men accused of spying for the government and posted online gruesome images of the execution in the restive Sinai Peninsula. Photos circulated on social media show knife-wielding, masked militants standing behind the two handcuffed prisoners who are forced to kneel on an unpaved country road. Both men are then decapitated.

A statement accompanying the pictures also claimed one man was a "spy for the military intelligence" services, while the other was a "spy for the army", according to US terrorism monitor SITE Intelligence Group, which said the images were likely authentic.

It also claimed responsibility for recent attacks on Egyptian troops in the northeastern cities of al-Arish and Rafah. IS' (Daesh) Egyptian offshoot, known as the Sinai Province, has been leading a violent Islamist insurgency in the region and frequently carries out suicide bombings and militant attacks on government forces.

In October, it said it had been behind the downing of a Russian passenger plane carrying holidaymakers back to St. Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Violence in the Sinai Peninsula escalated after President Abdel Fattah overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in a military coup backed by street protests in 2013.The jihadi group was then known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. It changed its name to Sinai Province after pledging allegiance to IS in 2014.