Dozens of Egyptian police officers killed by militants during raid

Shootout marks one of the deadliest incidents for Egyptian security forces since the insurgency began in 2013

Saturday 21 October 2017 19:38 BST
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The coffin of police captain Ahmed Fayez, killed in the battle in al-Wahat al-Bahriya, is carried
The coffin of police captain Ahmed Fayez, killed in the battle in al-Wahat al-Bahriya, is carried

At least 54 police officers have been killed during a raid on a militant hideout in one of the deadliest firefights involving Egyptian security forces in recent years.

Officials said that the gun battle began late on Friday in the al-Wahat al-Bahriya area in Giza province, about 84 miles south-west of Cairo.

Security forces acting on intelligence were moving against a militants’ hideout in the area. Backed by armoured personnel carriers and led by senior counter-terrorism officers, the police contingent drew fire and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the officials.

They said what happened next is not clear, but added that the force likely ran out of ammunition and that the militants captured several policemen and later killed them.

The officials said the police force appeared to have fallen into a carefully planned ambush set up by the militants, and warned the death toll could increase.

Those killed – 20 officers and 34 conscripts – included two police brigadier-generals, a colonel and 10 lieutenant-colonels.

Egypt’s interior ministry announced a much lower death toll, saying in a statement read over state television that 16 were killed in the shootout. It added that 15 militants were killed or injured, later releasing photos of some of them.

The last time Egypt’s security forces suffered such a heavy loss of life was in July 2015 when Isis carried out a series of coordinated attacks, including suicide bombings, against army and police positions in the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 50. However, the army said only 17 soldiers and more than 100 militants were killed.

Egyptian security forces rest on top of an armoured vehicle near the site of the attack

An official statement issued on Saturday said the latest incident would be investigated, suggesting that the heavy death toll may have been partially caused by incompetence, intelligence failures or lack of coordination.

The officials said prosecutors will look into whether the police’s counter-terrorism agents failed to inform the military of the operation or include them.

Two audio recordings, purportedly by policemen who took part in the operation, circulated online late on Friday. One police officer, apparently using a two-way radio, was heard in the nearly two-minute recording pleading for help from a higher-ranking officer.

“We are the only ones injured, sir,” the policeman said. “We were 10 but three were killed. After their injury, they bled to death, sir.”

“They took all the weapons and ammunition,” he added, “We are now at the foot of a mountain.”

The second recording was purportedly by an officer warning others. “I can’t identify any direction. Only planes can see us. Take care everyone,” he was heard saying, adding that militants were pursuing them.

The authenticity of the recordings could not be immediately verified.

The heavy loss of life will likely lead to the restructuring and streamlining of the country’s counter-terrorism effort, with better coordination between the police, military and security agencies high on the list of objectives.

It’s also likely to be cited by government critics as a vindication of their long-held argument that suppressing freedoms, jailing opponents and cracking down on civil society does not, as the pro-government media insists, help in the war against terror.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore all the hallmarks of Isis and could also have been launched by the Islamist Hasm Movement.

Isis’s Sinai province affiliate is spearheading an insurgency based in the peninsula, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The US condemned the attack, in a statement issued by its State Department, offering “profound condolences to the families of the deceased and the government and people of Egypt... at this difficult time”.

The incident comes a few days after militants staged a daylight attack in the heart of el-Arish, the largest city in the Sinai Peninsula, attacking a church and a nearby bank and reportedly making away with some $1m. Seven were killed in the assault last Monday.

Attacks by militants have significantly increased since the 2013 coup that ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was freely elected but whose one-year rule proved divisive.

Attacks have also spread outside Sinai and into the country’s mainland and areas close to the porous Libyan border to the west.

The country has been under a state of emergency since April, following a spate of suicide bombings targeting minority Christians that have killed more than a 100 people since December. The attacks were claimed by Isis.

Egypt blamed the attacks on the Christians on militant cells trained and armed in neighbouring Libya. In response, Egypt has stepped up security along its desert border, where it supports rival Libyan leader Khalifa Haftar.

Associated Press

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