CAIRO — Gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire Friday on a security vehicle patrolling a Giza village near some of Egypt’s oldest pyramids, killing five police, the Interior Ministry and officials said.
The deadly shooting heightened fears of what has become near-weekly attacks by suspected Islamic militants after a blitz attack left 23 troops dead in northern Sinai a week ago. Friday’s attack comes amid a months-long state of emergency following a series of church bombings in the spring, and threatens to deal a blow to Egypt’s struggling tourism industry and economy.
The attack took place in the village of Abusir in Badrashin, part of Greater Cairo, on a weekend in Egypt when there is little traffic in the streets. The slain policemen were part of the force tasked to guard the district of Saqqara, one of Egypt’s most popular tourist sites and host to a collection of temples, tombs and funerary complexes.
The Interior Ministry said the militants sprayed the policemen’s vehicle with machine-guns as the security force was on the move to patrol the surroundings. They fled after one policeman returned gunfire, the ministry said in a statement. Earlier, officials said that the attackers were masked and that they targeted a checkpoint.
Attackers stole the weapons and radios of the victims and tried to set fire to the bodies but fled upon seeing people gathering nearby, witnesses said.
CBC Extra, a privately owned Egyptian TV network, said surveillance cameras in a gas station near the site of the attack showed the attackers disguised in police uniforms and that they stopped the police vehicle before opening fire. It wasn’t immediately possible to confirm the network’s account.
Authorities cordoned off the area and ambulances rushed to the site of the attack, which is located near the famous Step Pyramid of King Djoser. It is the oldest of Egypt’s more than 90 pyramids and the forerunner of the more familiar straight-sided pyramids in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but it carried the hallmarks of the Hasm group, which the government links to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, from which the ousted president hails.
The attack comes a week after Islamic militants killed 23 army personnel in a remote checkpoint in northeastern Sinai Peninsula. Egypt has been under a state of emergency since April after suicide bombers struck two churches north of Cairo, killing scores of Christians.
Egypt has been rocked with deadly suicide bombings and drive-by shootings since the 2013 military ouster of an elected Islamist president. The violence has been concentrated in the northern Sinai Peninsula, but attacks have spread to the mainland, including in the capital where suicide bombers have struck churches and security headquarters.
An Islamic State group affiliate has claimed responsibility for major attacks. However, a smaller group called Hasm, or “Decisiveness,” which the government suspects is linked to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, has claimed responsibility for similar drive-by shootings and attacks targeting police, military, judges and pro-government figures.
The Brotherhood won a series of elections in Egypt following the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Mohammed Morsi, a senior Brotherhood leader, became Egypt’s first freely elected president the following year. His brief rule proved divisive, and the military overthrew him in 2013. Authorities outlawed the Brotherhood a few months later, declaring it a terrorist group. An ensuing security crackdown on the group’s ranks battered its leadership, who are either in prison or exile, and its youth became potential recruits for militant groups.
Last Friday, IS claimed responsibility for a stunning attack on a remote Egyptian army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula with a suicide car bomb and heavy machine-gun fire, killing at least 23 soldiers. It was the deadliest attack in the turbulent region in two years. On the same day, Hasm claimed responsibility for shooting and killing a policeman in Cairo.
Recently, the government announced the killing of Hasm members in alleged shootouts with security forces. In previous incidents, families of the slain suspects challenged authorities’ accounts and accused them of illegal detentions, torture and executions of their beloved ones. Last week, Hasm accused authorities of killing its detained members and vowed to continue its attacks on security forces.
While Hasm distances itself from attacking Egypt’s Christians, the IS affiliate has concentrated its campaign on Coptic Christians and suicide bombers have struck three churches and a bus carrying Coptic Christians in recent months killing more than 100 people. Egypt’s Christians account for about 10 per cent of the country’s 93 million people and extremists use Christians’ support for the military ouster of the Islamist Morsi as a justification for attacks.
Besides the major suicide bombings, militants have forced the displacement of scores of Christian families in northern Sinai after a spate of shootings.
Friday’s attack could impact an already struggling tourism industry – a pillar of Egypt’s economy that employs millions of people. The industry has suffered from political instability and a fragile security situation since the 2011 uprising. The year before the upheaval, nearly 15 million tourists visited Egypt. Last year, the figure was 5.3 million, according to official reports.