A day after deadly clashes transpired between Egyptian police and suspected militants in the Western Desert on Monday, conflicting reports regarding the number of killed security personnel emerge.
Egypt’s Ministry of Interior said in a statement that 16 members of the security forces, including 11 officers and four conscripts were killed when two patrols were ambushed by terrorist elements during a raid on their hideout southwest of Cairo off the Wahat road.
Meanwhile, Reuters, the BBC, AP and the Guardian report at least 52 dead police personnel, including 20 officers and 34 conscripts, citing unnamed security sources.
If confirmed, it would be the deadliest attack suffered by the Egyptian police and security forces in years.
“As soon as the first mission approached the location of the terrorist elements, they sensed the arrival of the forces and targeted them using heavy weapons from all directions,” the interior ministry said in the statement.
The ministry did not clarify the discrepancy between its own figures and the ones gathered by the foreign press.
Fifteen suspected militants also perished in the gunbattle.
Police vehicles were ambushed while driving towards what they had been tipped off as being a militant hide-out. When they arrived, militants were already in wait and carried out the devastating attack.
Although no confirmed information about the identity of the militants has yet emerged, the Egyptian militant group Hassm claimed responsibility for the attack. However, the New York Times reports that the claim was “discounted by militancy experts who questioned its authenticity.”
Audio recordings emerged last night of conversations between two police officers on the scene and their headquarters, calling for help while they were fleeing.
“The guys are behind us, chasing us in their cars,” one officer can be heard saying, according to the New York Times.
“We are the only ones injured, sir,” the officer said. “We were 10 but three were killed. After their injury, they bled to death, sir.”
“They took all the weapons and ammunition,” he added, “We are now at the foot of a mountain.”
“They took all the weapons and ammunition. We are hiding under a mountain,” a second officer said.
“I can’t identify any direction. Only planes can see us. Take care every one,” he was heard saying,
The authenticity of the recordings could not be confirmed by Egyptian Streets,
Following the claim that at least 50 members of police and security forces had been killed, Egypt’s State Information Service issued a statement protesting the reporting by Reuters and the BBC on the Wahat attack. Authorities “condemned categorically their inaccurate coverage of this incident”.
The statement, accusing the foreign outlets of “intentional manipulation,” denied the number of victims that they reported, stressing that the figures provided by the Ministry of Interior are confirmed to be correct.
The shootout comes just days after militants carried out a deadly daytime attack the Kawadis area in North Sinai, killing six soldiers.
Since the 2011 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has witnessed an increase in attacks by militants, particularly in areas outside its major cities.
Attacks escalated following the toppling of president Mohammed Morsi in 2013, and have recently expanded into inhabited areas around the country.