CAIRO • Sixteen policemen were killed in a shoot-out with militants on the road between Cairo and the Bahariya oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert, according to an official toll released yesterday.
The figure from the interior ministry was lower than a toll given earlier by security and medical sources of at least 35 officers killed in the clashes, which began on Friday night. The ministry said 15 militants were killed as security forces chased them into the desert after the clashes.
The ministry said security forces hunting down Islamist militants were attacked on a road to the oasis, some 200km south-west of Cairo. According to a source close to the security services, the convoy was hit by rocket fire. The attackers also used explosive devices. There has not yet been a claim of responsibility.
A fake claim in the name of the small extremist group Hasm, reported by multiple local media, had spread on social media soon after the attack.
Since the army in 2013 removed elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, extremist groups have increased their attacks on the military and police. The Muslim Brotherhood, once Egypt’s largest opposition movement, has long denied involvement in the attacks on the authorities.
Mr Morsi was elected as Egypt’s first civilian president in 2012, but the army overthrew him a year later following mass protests against the Islamist’s divisive rule.
Since then, an extensive crackdown on the group has left it in disarray, with competing wings that have disagreed on whether to resort to violence after police bloodily suppressed their protests.
The authorities are also fighting the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, which has increased its attacks in the north of the Sinai peninsula more than 500km away from the latest violence.
Hasm has claimed multiple attacks since last year on police, officials and judges in Cairo. However, none of the militant groups have claimed any affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood in their statements.