CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian police arrested 12 suspected militants in a province southwest of the capital, Cairo, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday, days after a deadly attack on the country’s security forces killed at least 16 policemen.
The ministry statement said the militants were “cadres” of Hasm, which authorities say is a breakaway faction of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood that has targeted security troops in recent years in a series of brazen attacks.
The arrests were made in Fayoum province, 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Cairo, it said. Police also seized 13 weapons and two explosive devices.
The arrests came a few days after authorities officially announced that at least 16 police were killed in a brazen ambush by militants southwest of Cairo. Security officials had earlier told The Associated Press and other media outlets that the death toll reached 54, making it one of the worst attacks against Egypt’s police in years.
However, it has not been possible to reconcile the conflicting reports. No militant group has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, which took place near Egypt’s vast western desert. Previous series of attacks there have been blamed on Islamic militants pouring in from Libya.
On Monday, Egypt’s military targeted an arms convoy crossing the border from Libya, destroying vehicles loaded with weapons and explosives, and killing militants, a military spokesman said in a statement. Col. Tamer el-Rifai said that airstrikes destroyed eight vehicles and killed suspected militants, without elaborating.
Egypt has battled militants in the northern part of Sinai Peninsula for years, but the insurgency became far more deadly after the 2013 military ouster of Mohammed Morsi, an elected but divisive Islamist president.
An Islamic State affiliate has since waged a number of high-profile attacks on the mainland, including areas near Egypt’s porous and desert border with chaotic Libya. Egypt maintains that militants attacking its security forces and minority Christians sneak into the country across the border with Libya carrying weapons.
There has also been a wave of attacks, mainly targeting security forces, blamed on splinter factions of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group. The Egyptian government declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group in 2013, in response to a deadly suicide bombing targeting a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city.
Egypt has been under a state of emergency since bombings and suicide attacks targeting minority Coptic Christians killed scores in April. Those attacks were claimed by the Islamic State affiliate, based in Sinai.