CAIRO (AP) — Militants attacked a police checkpoint near a Mediterranean resort area frequented by Egyptian holidaymakers, killing five policemen and losing four of their own in the ensuing gunbattle, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile Egypt's prosecutor general referred 23 suspected militants to trial, accusing them of forming a terrorist group called the Ansar al-Shariah Brigades that allegedly orchestrated the killing of 12 policemen. The investigation, the prosecutor general's statement says, revealed that the leader of the group used the internet for recruitment, sending his group's members to Syria for fighting. Of the accused, 18 have been arrested while the rest were charged in absentia.
Egypt has seen a rise in militant attacks since the ouster last July of its Islamist president and a crackdown on his supporters.
The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that the attack that killed the five policemen took place late Tuesday in the Dhabaa area in the coastal province of Matrouh. Security forces deployed at a nearby port rushed to the site and pursued the attackers, which it described as "terrorists."
Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm said the attackers shot and killed the policemen, then set fire to their vehicle, leaving their bodies badly charred.
The Interior Ministry statement updated initial descriptions of the attack given to The Associated Press and reported late Tuesday by a security official who had said two policemen were killed in a car crash while pursuing militants.
Later on Wednesday, an Egyptian judge confirmed the death sentences of 12 men it says are Islamists who murdered a senior police officer last year. The confirmation has been approved by the country's top Muslim cleric, who has an advisory role, but will likely face appeal. All but seven defendants were tried in absentia.
The case is rooted in the September police raid on an Islamic militant stronghold near the Pyramids of Giza, where militants shot dead Gen. Nabil Farrag. A month earlier in the same village, Kerdasa, a mob attacked a police station there, killing 15 policemen and mutilating the bodies.
That attack was in retaliation for a heavy crackdown by security forces on supporters of the ousted president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, which left hundreds dead.