Suspected militants ambushed two minibuses carrying off-duty border policemen from the Interior Ministry's Central Security Forces in Egypt's northern Sinai region on Monday morning, killing at least 25 of them execution-style and wounding two, security officials said.
The militants forced the two vehicles to stop, ordered the policemen out and forced them onto their knees before shooting them execution-style in the back of their heads, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The policemen were in civilian clothes, the officials said, and the killings took place just west of the north Sinai town of Rafah, in an area called Sadut. According to a Sinai-based journalist, the policemen were returning to duty at their camp in Rafah from vacation and were not being escorted by the military at the time of the attack.
There was initial confusion over how the ambush had transpired, and the officials at first said the policemen were killed when the militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at the two minibuses.
But confusion over details in the immediate aftermath of such incidents is common. Egyptian state television also reported that the men had been executed.
Sinai has been witnessing almost daily attacks targeting security forces by suspected militants since the July 3 ousting of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a military coup. The strategic region borders the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Egypt's military and security forces have been engaged in a long battle against militants in the northern half of the peninsula. Militants and tribesmen have used the area for smuggling and other criminal activity for years. Militants have fired rockets into Israel and staged other cross-border attacks there on previous occasions.
The deadly incident came one day after Egyptian police killed at least 36 Egyptian prisoners by firing tear gas at them in an attempt to free a guard they were holding. In recent days, nearly 900 people have been killed in Egypt.
The deaths of the prisoners, who had been captured during the fierce fighting in recent days around Cairo's Ramses Square, came as Defense Minister Col. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi also called for the inclusion of Islamists in the government.
Meanwhile, security forces detained Muslim Brotherhood members in raids aimed at stopping more planned rallies supporting ousted President Mohammed Morsi, which the military-backed government says fuels the violent unrest.
The prisoners killed were among 600 detainees in a prison truck convoy heading to Abu Zaabal prison in northern Egypt, security officials told The Associated Press. Detainees in one of the trucks rioted and managed to capture a police officer inside, the officials said, Security forces fired tear gas into the truck to free the badly beaten officer, the officials said, and the prisoners suffocated on the gas.
However, the officials' version of event contradicted reports about the incident carried by state media. The official website of Egyptian state television reported that the deaths took place after security forces clashed with militants near the prison and detainees came under fire while trying to escape. The official MENA state news agency also said the trucks came under attack from gunmen.
State media also said all those killed and the gunmen belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's organization. The officials who spoke to AP, however, said some of the detainees were affiliated with the Brotherhood while others were not.
The differences in the accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
The violence adds to the ever-rising death toll in days of unrest. On Saturday alone, clashes between Morsi supporters and police killed 79 people, according to a government tally released Sunday and carried by MENA. That raised the death toll for four days of unrest across the country to nearly 900 people killed. Some 70 police officers were killed in clashes with protesters or retaliatory attacks during the same period, according to the Interior Ministry.