CAIRO: Militants killed eight Egyptian policemen at a checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula Wednesday.
The northeastern region is the hotbed of a years-long insurgency by militants, some linked to Daesh, who have regularly hit security forces.
“Terrorist elements targeted a checkpoint west of El-Arish early this morning... The exchange of fire killed five terrorist elements and eight police were martyred,” the interior ministry said.
Some militants escaped and security forces are following their movements, it said in a statement.
Two of the militants who were killed first managed to hijack two tanks belonging to the Central Security Forces, a force under the interior ministry’s control.
But a military plane destroyed one and security forces killed the other militant in a shootout, a security source told AFP, providing photos of the charred tanks.
The source said reinforcements had been deployed to the checkpoint near El-Arish, capital of North Sinai province.
“The checkpoint is currently surrounded by the army and police,” he said.
Three members of the Central Security Forces were also wounded in the attack and taken to El-Arish public hospital, a medical source told AFP.
Egyptian state television said there were fears the death toll could rise, amid reports of attacks on multiple checkpoints.
It also broadcast still images it said were of the slain attackers.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry condemned the attack on a checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, and expressed condolences to the families of those killed.
The Kingdom also said it stands with Egypt in the country’s fight against terrorism.
Egyptian social media users paid tribute to the policemen killed as Muslims marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
“It's very hard for a mother, waiting for her son to ring her and send her Eid greetings, to receive a call that he has been killed,” prominent actor Mahmoud Al-Bezzawy wrote on Twitter.
The interior ministry did not release the identities of the slain officers.
Egypt has for years been battling North Sinai insurgents affiliated with Daesh.
Hundreds of police officers and soldiers have been killed in militant attacks, which surged after the removal from power in 2013 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi.
Police raids in May killed 16 suspected militants in North Sinai.
The interior ministry said last month it had intelligence that militants were planning attacks on “important and vital facilities,” as well as prominent figures in El-Arish.
In late 2017, North Sinai was the scene of the deadliest extremist attack in Egypt’s modern history when militants killed more than 300 worshippers at a mosque, without any group claiming responsibility.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has presented himself as a bulwark against terrorism and a rock of political stability in a region hit by turmoil.
In February 2018, the army launched a nationwide offensive against the extremists focused mainly on the North Sinai.
According to official figures, around 650 militants have been killed since the start of the operation, while the army has lost some 50 soldiers.
Last month, a roadside bomb hit a tourist bus near Egypt’s famed Giza pyramids, wounding several passengers including South Africans.
The attack dealt another blow to the North African country’s efforts to revive its key tourism industry after years of turmoil.
Authorities have gone at great lengths to lure tourists back, touting enhanced security at stadiums and airports.
The country is set to host the African Cup of Nations later this month, although most matches will take place well away from the troubled North Sinai region.