At least 35 Egyptian police officers were killed in an ambush by Islamist fighters near the Bahariya oasis in the country’s Western Desert, security and medical sources said Saturday, in a rare flare-up outside the Sinai Peninsula.
The interior ministry said security forces hunting down Islamist militants in the region were attacked late Friday on a road to the Bahariya oasis, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) southwest of Cairo.
An official statement said a number of the attackers were killed, but did not give any figures for losses on either side. Medics and security sources gave a death toll of 35 among police.
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, 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.
Authorities are fighting the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group, which has increased its attacks in the north of the Sinai peninsula more than 500 kilometres (300 miles) away from the latest violence.
In response to the latest bloodshed Egyptian security forces appeared to step up their operations in the area of the attack.
Two truck drivers heading away from the scene told AFP they had seen heavy deployments of security personnel in the area and that aircraft were carrying out surveillance.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was scheduled Saturday to attend events in the northern town of El Alamein on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast to mark the 75th anniversary of the pivotal Allied World War II victory in the Battle of El Alamein.
But an AFP reporter did not see the strongman leader at an open-air ceremony involving foreign dignitaries, and his office said he had cancelled his participation in a number of other engagements.
String of attacks
Condemnations of the attack came in from the Middle East and Europe, with France — where Sisi is due to visit next week — pledging solidarity after the latest losses for Egypt’s security force in “the fight against terrorism”.
The Muslim Brotherhood, once Egypt’s largest opposition movement, has long denied involvement in the attacks on the authorities.
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.
Analysts say a section of the Brotherhood has encouraged armed assaults against the police.
Hasm has claimed multiple attacks since 2016 on police, officials and judges in Cairo.
Hundred of soldiers and police have been killed in the grinding Islamic State group insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula in the far northeast of the country.
In their statements, none of the militant groups claim any affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood.
On October 13, the Egyptian army said six soldiers were killed in a “terrorist” gun and grenade attack on a security post near the North Sinai provincial capital of El-Arish.
IS has maintained a steady war of attrition with sniper attacks and roadside bombings.
But unlike their parent organisation in Iraq and Syria, they have been unable to seize population centres in the peninsula, which borders Israel and Gaza.
Earlier this month, Sisi extended for a second time a state of emergency, first declared after bombings claimed by IS in two churches killed at least 45 people in April.