Sep 16, 5:13 AM EDT

Roadside bomb kills 6 policemen in Egypt


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EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) -- A powerful explosion killed five Egyptian police conscripts and an officer near the border town of Rafah in the restive Sinai Peninsula early Tuesday, in an attack that bore the hallmarks of a local al-Qaida-inspired group, Egyptian security officials said.

The Interior Ministry and a security official said the bomb was hidden deep under the asphalt of a highway, in an area called Wadi Halfa, where a joint police and army force was passing early in the morning.

The official said the blast shredded the armored vehicle and tore the policemen's bodies to pieces. The force was assigned to detect explosives but it was unclear if they were searching for them at the time of the attack.

No further details were immediately available. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief the media.

Islamic extremists have escalated attacks over the past year against police and army personnel in retaliation for the military-led ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after mass demonstrations against him. Suicide bombings, assassinations and road side bombs have claimed the lives of dozens of policemen and army officers. Recently, militants have beheaded men they accused of spying on them for Israeli intelligence.

While authorities blame Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group over the violence, another al-Qaida-inspired group known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for most of the major attacks. The group says it is avenging the authorities' extensive crackdown on Morsi's Islamist supporters who have been staging near daily protests demanding his reinstatement. The clampdown has killed hundreds and jailed thousands.

The insurgency is more intense in the Sinai Peninsula, home to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and other extremist militants. For years, the northern region bordering Gaza and Israel has been a militant stronghold and base for weapons and militant smuggling to and from Gaza.

Since Morsi's ouster, Egyptian military and police have launched a wide offensive against the militants, but counterattacks continue.

Tuesday's bombing is identical to a Sept. 2 explosion that killed 11 police officers in the same area, also with an underground roadside bomb detonated by remote.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attack days later, posting a video showing its preparation and execution as militants shouted "God is great."

On Monday, the military said its troops had killed 56 militants and seized large amount of explosives over the period between Aug. 31 and mid-September.

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