CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian policeman and a militant were killed when security forces raided a hideout used by radical Islamists near Alexandria on Wednesday, and a senior officer was killed near Cairo when a bomb blew up his car, the Interior Ministry said.
Militant violence has spiraled since the army toppled Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July. That poses a security challenge ahead of a presidential election in May that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief, is expected to win.
The hideout targeted in the raid was used by members of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, the group behind some of the deadliest attacks of the last nine months, the Interior Ministry said.
The militants had opened fire on the security forces as they arrived at the hideout in Borg El Arab, some 45 km (28 miles) south-west of Alexandria.
The police officer killed in the raid was named as First Lieutenant Ahmed Saad and the dead militant as Hassan Abdel Aal, a 25-year old from the Nile Delta province of Dakahlia.
Two other militants were detained, the ministry spokesman, Hany Abdel Latif, said in a televised statement. Footage broadcast on state TV appeared to show the body of a militant on the ground.
The militants were “among the dangerous elements of the terrorist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which was planning to target police and military facilities and the security forces”, the ministry said. The police seized weapons including explosive belts, automatic weapons, hand grenades and ammunition.
Attacks claimed by Islamist militants have killed around 500 people since last July, mostly policemen and soldiers. The threat has been compounded by a flow of weapons from neighboring Libya. Another militant group called Ajnad Misr, or Soldiers of Egypt, has also claimed responsibility for attacks.
The police officer killed near Cairo on Wednesday was named as Brigadier General Ahmed Zaki. State media said he was killed outside his home in 6th of October City, 32 km (20 miles) outside Cairo, when a bomb placed under his car went off.
Two conscript policemen were wounded in the bombing.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for attacks including a failed attempt to blow up the interior minister last September, and large bomb attacks on police stations.
The United States this month designated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis
as a terrorist group. The group first emerged in the Sinai Peninsula in 2011 after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. Since last July, it has switched its focus from attacking Israel to killing Egyptian security forces.
It has also claimed responsibility for a February 16 attack that killed three South Korean tourists in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Muslim Brotherhood, declared a terrorist group by the government in December, has condemned the violence.
Sisi, who deposed Mursi, the country’s first freely elected president, following mass protests against his rule, has vowed to crush the militant threat.
He offered condolences in a statement issued by his presidential election campaign.
Additional reporting by Abdel Rahman Yousef in Alexandria; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Michael Georgy and Hugh Lawson