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Explosive device kills three police officers in Cairo's ancient Islamic quarter

Interior ministry says officers had caught man suspected of previous attack when explosive device in his possession went off
People react at the scene where policemen were killed when a suicide bomber blew up in Cairo (AFP)

Three police officers were killed and three wounded when an explosive device carried by a man they were pursuing detonated in the heart of Cairo on Monday, an interior ministry statement said.

According to the ministry, security forces were pursuing the man in the search for the perpetrator of an attempted attack against a police patrol in the west of the capital on Friday.

After catching the suspect in Cairo's ancient Islamic district close to the Al Azhar mosque, "one of the explosive devices in his possession exploded, causing the death of the terrorist and the martyrdom of a police officer from national security and an officer from Cairo investigations [department]," the statement said.

A third officer later died of his wounds, the Reuters news agency reported.

At least three civilians were also wounded, including a Thai student who suffered light injuries, security sources said. 

The area around the Al Azhar mosque is home to crowded markets and is a popular tourist destination.

State television broadcast a black-and-white photo of the suspect, whom it identified as 37-year-old Al-Hassan Abdullah.

Friday's attempted attack left two policemen and three civilians with minor injuries when a home-made bomb exploded during an effort to defuse it, security sources said at the time.

Egyptian security forces have been waging a campaign against Islamist militants over the past year focussed on Egypt's Sinai peninsula. 

On Saturday, the Egyptian military said 15 of its personnel had been killed in a clash in North Sinai in which seven militants were also killed.

Attacks in the capital are relatively rare, though a roadside bomb in Giza killed three Vietnamese tourists and a Egyptian guide in December.