At least 54 policemen, including 20 officers and 34 conscripts, were killed when a raid on a militant hideout southwest of Cairo was ambushed, officials said on Saturday. The ensuing firefight was one of the deadliest for Egyptian security forces in recent years.
Two police officials told The Associated Press that the exchange of fire began late Friday in the al-Wahat al-Bahriya area in Giza province, about 135 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of Cairo.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief media.
The firefight began when security forces acting on intelligence moved against a militants’ hideout in the area. Backed by armoured personnel carriers and led by senior counterterrorism officers, the police contingent drew fire and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the officials.
The officials 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. The death toll could increase, they added.
Those killed included two police brigadier-generals, a colonel and 10 lieutenant colonels.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, 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 militants from the extremist Islamic State group 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 over 100 militants were killed.
An official statement issued on Saturday said Friday’s 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 counterterrorism 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 Friday. One policeman, apparently using a two-way radio, was heard in the nearly two-minute recording pleading for help from a higher-ranking officer.