At least 24 Egyptian policemen were killed Monday morning when unidentified militants ambushed their minibuses, wire services and Egyptian media reported.
The attack took place in the Sinai Peninsula near the Rafah border with Gaza, a hotbed of Islamist militant activity.
“The militants forced the two vehicles to stop, ordered the policemen out and forced them to lie on the ground before they shot them to death,” the Associated Press reported, citing officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ynet quotes a report in Al-Ahram saying that the attackers had intended to kidnap the policemen but “eventually started shooting them because of their large number. A source at the Egyptian interior ministry said that the ambush was planned in advance.”
The policemen were reportedly dressed in civilian clothes.
There were conflicting reports on exactly how the attack occurred, as most journalists are reporting on the ongoing violence from Cairo, some 230 miles from Rafah.
While Egyptian state television broadcasted a report saying the police were killed “execution-style,” officials earlier said they were killed after rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the two minibuses.
Different news agencies also provided conflicting descriptions of the nature of the attack. The BBC called the attack an “ambush” and a “blast,” which also injured three additional policemen.
This, as Reuters reported, “The policemen were on their way to their barracks in Rafah, near the border with Israel, when militants attacked them with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades, the security sources said. Earlier reports had said an explosion caused the casualties.”
AFP also reported that rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the buses.
Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Youm had a similar report to AP.
Osama Ismail, assistant interior minister for Sinai Security, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the militants ordered the police to get off the minibuses and then fired at them. Forces on the ground and from the air were combing the area in an effort to locate the perpetrators.
Interior Ministry public relations officer Abdel Fattah Othman says the conscripts were heading to their camp to obtain documents ending their service.
The head of the Egyptian military on Sunday vowed a “forceful” response to the ongoing violence gripping the country.
On Sunday, at least 36 detainees were killed after security forces fired tear gas inside a prison truck in which they were traveling, the AP and other news agencies reported. While en route to the Abu Zaabal prison, those traveling in one of the trucks began to riot and badly beat up a police officer inside, security officials told the AP.
“Security forces fired tear gas into the truck in hopes of freeing the officer, the officials said, adding that those killed died from suffocating on the gas,” AP reported Sunday.
The Muslim Brotherhood released a statement holding police responsible, saying “The murder of 35 detained anti-coup protesters affirms the intentional violence aimed at opponents of the coup, and the cold-blooded killing of which they are targets.”
Earlier on Sunday, Commander in Chief of Egypt’s Armed Forces Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned that security forces would forcefully oppose protester violence.
“We will never be silent in the face of the destruction of the country,” said Sisi.
“We are very prepared for this,” he said, adding there would be a “forceful” response to attacks on police stations and government buildings, according to a translation provided by AFP.
There have been nearly daily Islamist militant attacks in the Sinai Peninsula targeting Egyptian police forces since Muslim Brotherhood-aligned President Mohammed Morsi was ousted from power on July 3.
The Egyptian Army has launched an all-out crackdown against the militants since Morsi’s ouster to try to rid the Sinai of extremist groups, including Al Qaeda-aligned fighters who have also fired rockets into the territory of next-door Israel.
Some 800 have reportedly been killed, including 70 police and soldiers, since security forces cleared pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo last week.