Cairo - Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a security vehicle Friday killing five policemen just a short distance from some of Egypt's oldest pyramids in Giza, officials said.
The shooting in the early hours of the morning took place in the village of Abusir in Badrashin, part of Greater Cairo, and the slain policemen were part of the force tasked to guard the district of Saqqara, one of Egypt's most popular tourist sites and host to a collection of temples, tombs and funerary complexes.
Authorities cordoned off the area and ambulances rushed to the site of the attack, which is located near the famous Step Pyramid of King Djoser. It is the oldest of Egypt's more than 90 pyramids and the forerunner of the more familiar straight-sided pyramids in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo.
Attackers stole the weapons and radios of the victims and tried to set fire to the bodies but fled upon seeing people gathering nearby, witnesses said.
The Interior Ministry said that the militants sprayed the policemen's vehicle with bullets from machine guns as the security force was on the move to patrol the surroundings. They fled after one policeman returned gunfire, the ministry said in a statement.
Earlier, officials said that the attackers were masked and that they targeted a checkpoint.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The attack comes a week after Islamic militants killed 23 army personnel in Sinai Peninsula. Egypt has been under a state of emergency since April after suicide bombers struck two churches north of Cairo, killing scores of Christians.
Insurgents have carried out a number of attacks in Egypt since the 2013 military ouster of an elected Islamist president. The violence has been concentrated in the northern Sinai Peninsula, but attacks spread in the mainland, including in the capital where suicide bombers have struck churches and security headquarters.
The Islamic State group affiliate has claimed responsibility for major attacks. However, a shadowy group called Hasm, or "Decisiveness," which the government suspects is linked to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, has claimed responsibility for similar drive-by shootings and attacks targeting police, military, judges and pro-government figures.
The brotherhood won a series of elections in Egypt following the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, a senior Brotherhood leader, became Egypt's first freely elected president the following year. His brief rule proved divisive, and the military overthrew him in 2013. Authorities outlawed the Brotherhood a few months later, declaring it a terrorist group.
Last Friday, IS claimed responsibility for a stunning attack on a remote Egyptian army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula with a suicide car bomb and heavy machine gun fire Friday, killing at least 23 soldiers. It was the deadliest attack in the turbulent region in two years. On the same day, Hasm claimed responsibility for shooting and killing a policeman as he was heading for Friday prayers.
Over the past days, the government announced killings of members of Hasm in alleged shootouts with security forces. In previous incidents, families of the slain suspects challenged authorities' accounts and accuse them of illegal detentions, torture, and executions of their beloved ones. Last week, Hasm accused authorities of killing its detained members and vowed to continue its attacks on security forces.
While Hasm distances itself from attacking Egypt's Christians, the IS affiliate has concentrated its campaign on Coptic Christians, calling them the group's "favorite prey" and over the past months, suicide bombers struck three churches and a bus carrying Coptic Christians killing more than 100 people. Egypt's Christians account for about 10 percent of the country's 93 million people and extremists use Christians' support for the military ouster of Morsi as a justification for attacks.
The attacks prompted the Egyptian churches to suspend religious festivals and group tours for the remainder after authorities warned them about possible attacks by Islamic militants. Troops backed by armored vehicles and snipers would be deployed outside monasteries hosting major religious festivals in coming weeks. At least two of these festivals will take place in Assiut, home to a sizeable Christian community. In addition to the major suicide bombings, militants have forced displacement of scores of Christian families in northern Sinai after a spate of shootings.