CAIRO: Three Egyptian policemen were killed Monday when masked men attacked a checkpoint in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, security sources said, as anti-government protesters were met with tear gas in the capital.
No group has claimed responsibility. Al-Qaeda-linked militants have stepped up attacks on soldiers and police since the army toppled Islamist President Mohammad Morsi in July.
The majority of the attacks have been carried out in the largely lawless Sinai region, although militants have on occasion extended their campaign into major cities.
Three men in a car and one on a motorcycle approached the checkpoint before dawn and fired at the policemen “to make sure that they were dead,” a security source in Mansoura said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“This is another attack in the series of terrorist attacks against the police,” he said. He did not specify who had carried out the attack. State-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported that 60 bullet casings were found at the site.
In Qalyoubiya, another city in the Nile Delta province, a prosecutor ordered the arrest of 16 people suspected of forming a “terrorist cell” for their involvement in the failed assassination attempt on the interior minister in September.
A Sinai-based militant group claimed that attack and released a video saying a former army major had carried out the suicide bombing.
The army-backed interim government says it is fighting a war on terror, and makes no distinction between the Sinai-based militants it calls “terrorists” and ousted president Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest and biggest Islamist group, denies any links with violent activity.
In the capital Monday, security forces fired teargas to disperse hundreds of students protesting against the government at Al-Azhar University, a week before Morsi is due to face trial.
Morsi, who has been detained since the army overthrew him on July 3, is expected to go on trial next Monday on charges of inciting murder. His supporters have called for mass protests on that day, raising the prospect of more violence as Egypt’s political crisis continues.
The students chanted “down with military rule” before the security forces moved in to break up the protest.
Repeated student demonstrations demanding Morsi’s return are a delicate matter for the authorities because the administration at Al-Azhar, the ancient seat of Sunni learning, has historically toed the government line.
Monday’s protest, like several others this month, took place near the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque, where security forces dispersed a large pro-Morsi protest camp on Aug. 14, killing hundreds.
Thousands of Islamist supporters and leaders of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have also been jailed since his overthrow and the movement has been banned.
Morsi’s supporters say his removal was a coup against a freely elected leader. The army says it was responding to the will of the people, who had taken to the streets to protest against his rule.
Interim President Adly Mansour was quoted by the state news agency as saying in a meeting with Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who toppled Morsi, and the interior minister that “imposing security was the main priority at this important stage.”
Since Morsi’s overthow, attacks by Islamist militants have increased, particularly against police and soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula.