At least 16 Egyptian policemen have been killed in clashes with armed men during a raid on a suspected militant hideout in the country's Western Desert, according to an official toll.
The figure from the Interior Ministry was lower than a toll given earlier by security and medical sources of at least 35 Egyptian police officers killed in the clashes which began on Friday night. The ministry said that 15 militants were also killed as security forces chased them into the desert after the clashes.
The shootout broke out after members of the Egyptian National Police attacked the terrorist cell in Bahariya Oasis, a large area of 135 square kilometers, situated some 370 kilometers from the capital Cairo, on Friday.
The sources further said that authorities ordered the raid after they received information on the militants’ location deep in the desert, believed to be home to at least eight suspected members of the Hasm group, an outfit the government links with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood party and which has claimed several attacks around the capital targeting judges and police since last year.
Cairo claims that Hasm is the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular political party in Egypt and the oldest in the Arab world. The movement has denied any connection to the group.
Earlier in the day, Egypt’s Interior Ministry issued a statement confirming that “a number of police officers were either killed or wounded” in the incident, without giving an exact figure for the casualties. It added that some “terrorists” were also slain in the raid, which continued into darkness.
In a statement released on Friday evening, Hasm claimed responsibility for killing 28 members of the country’s police and security forces and wounding 32 others. However, the group did not claim any affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Earlier in the day, Egyptian media outlets had reported that at least 16 policemen had lost their lives after they attacked a terrorist cell in al-Wahat Road in Giza. It was not immediately clear whether the fatalities reported later included those of the Bahariya Oasis incident.
Egypt has suffered attacks by various other groups since the coup of 2013 that many say was orchestrated by the then army chief and current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Militants of Velayat Sinai, a local affiliate of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group, still target security forces in the restive Sinai Peninsula while they continue to pose threats to the Coptic Christians in other provinces. This comes as Sisi has largely failed to deliver on his vow to root out terrorism from Egypt.