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Hundreds mourn Egyptian police killed in ambush

The ambush in Egypt's remote Western Desert left scores of police officers dead
Mourners carry the coffin of Police Captain Ahmed Fayez on 21 October (AFP)

Hundreds gathered in the Egyptian cities of Suez, Gharbiya, and Minya on Saturday to mourn the victims of a gun battle that security sources say killed 52 police officers.

Mourners carried the coffins of police officers and conscripts who had been killed in an ambush on Friday in Egypt's Western Desert. Egyptian authorities said only 16 men had died when their patrol came under attack, but three security sources said the number was 52.

The attack happened when a convoy of five police vehicles was ambushed from higher ground by militants firing rocket-propelled grenades and detonating explosive devices, one senior security source said.

Egyptian authorities said two police operations were moving in on a suspected militant hideout in a remote area 135km southwest of Cairo, when the attack took place.

At least 15 militants were killed in the gunfight and security forces were combing the area, according to a statement by the interior ministry.

Security has been a key point for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former military commander who presents himself as a bulwark against terrorism after leading the removal of president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. Sisi was elected on a landslide a year later.

Militant groups have increased their attacks on the military and police since 2013. Authorities are also fighting the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State (IS) group, which has increased its attacks in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, more than 500km from the latest violence.

Friday's attack has yet to be claimed by any group, but local media reported that Hasm, a small militant group that has recently claimed attacks around Cairo, targeting judges and police, was responsible.

Egyptian authorities accuse Hasm of being a wing of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which the Muslim Brotherhood denies.