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Mexico 'outraged' as 8 of its tourists confirmed killed in Egypt

A model agency executive, a shaman who supported indigenous rights, and a former politician are known to have been killed
Handout picture released by the Mexican Presidency showing President Enrique Pena Nieto speaking with Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (AFP)

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has confirmed that eight Mexican tourists were killed by Egyptian security forces, saying that he was outraged by the incident.

"President Pena Nieto expressed his deep dismay and sadness over the death of our citizens, as well as the pain and outrage that these unprecedented events have caused within Mexican society," a statement from his office issued late on Tuesday said.

Earlier reports had only confirmed the death of two Mexican tourists, but the final Mexican death toll was confirmed on Tuesday evening. Twelve people, including tour guides, were killed in total, with six more tourists injured in the accidental attack.

Authorities have yet to release details about those killed and injured although some of the families of the victims have come forward to provide information.

Among those killed was a former politician, Maria Elena Cruz Munoz, a member of the conservative opposition National Action Party who previously served as a deputy in Mexico's lower chamber of Congress. 

A modelling agency executive, a well-respected shaman who supported indigenous rights, and a salesman of hospital equipment are also known to have been killed.

The Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade is now in Cairo where he is demanding an urgent inquiry into the "unjustified attack" that was announced early on Monday.

Ruiz Massieu, who was accompanied by relatives of four of the victims, is set to visit the six Mexicans wounded in the attack at their hospital in a suburb of Cairo, a senior official travelling with her told AFP.

Egyptian authorities said security forces chasing militants mistakenly killed a total of 12 Mexicans and Egyptians whose convoy had entered a restricted area of the vast Western Desert on Sunday.

Survivors told Mexican diplomats they were bombed by a plane and helicopters.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called Pena Nieto to express his "most sincere condolences" over the "tragic incident," the Mexican leader's office said in a statement.

Egypt said the tourists entered a restricted area in the Western Desert and were "mistakenly" killed as security forces chased jihadists who had abducted and beheaded an Egyptian.

The incident has proven embarrassing for security forces which regularly claim to have killed dozens of militants in air strikes, tolls that are difficult to independently verify. 

Hassan al-Nahla, head of Egypt's tour guides union, said the tourist group had received all the required permits and set off with a police escort from Cairo to Bahariya oasis, roughly 350 kilometres away.

About 80 kilometres from their hotel, they veered two kilometres into the desert for lunch, he said in a statement.

Attacked in 'tourist spot'

The place they chose for their picnic was a regular tourist stop, Nahla said later on television.

"I don't blame anyone but I ask who is responsible for coordination, and why was it absent?

"If the military is dealing with terrorists, why were the authorities who issue permits not notified? Why was the tourism ministry not notified so it could coordinate with the tourism companies?"

Nahla told AFP the area where they stopped had never been a restricted zone.

"There was no notification on the ground, and no coordination," he said of the security operation.

The incident is likely to raise further fears for Egypt's vital tourism industry, which has struggled to recover from years of turmoil.

About 10 million tourists visited Egypt in 2014, down sharply from almost 15 million in 2010.

Many Egyptians on social media have criticised the government for suggesting the tourists were at fault for straying into a restricted zone.

The Western Desert is popular with tour groups, but is also a militant hideout, with Western embassies warning against non-essential travel there.

Last month, Egypt's branch of the Islamic State group beheaded a Croatian oil worker who was abducted near Cairo, at the edge of the Western Desert.

IS in Egypt said on Sunday it had "resisted a military operation in the Western Desert" and published pictures of its fighters apparently engaging the military.

Egypt has struggled to quell militant groups focused mainly in the Sinai Peninsula in the east since the military helped to overthrow Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The military last week launched a wide-scale campaign to uproot militants in the peninsula, claiming to have already killed more than 200 militants.

In the last two years, Cairo says hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed, many in attacks claimed by IS's Sinai Province affiliate which pledged allegiance to the main group in Iraq and Syria last year.

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