Dozens of Egyptian police were killed in clashes with militants in the country’s western desert Friday, one of the deadliest attacks this year suffered by Egypt’s security forces fighting persistent and spreading Islamist militancy.

At least 55 policemen, including 20 officers and 34 conscripts, were killed in a shootout during a raid on a militant hideout about 80 miles from the Egyptian capital, the Associated Press reported, citing security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. Several other local media reported similar death tolls.

The violence was a stark indication of a core challenge facing the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East. Ever since he led a military coup to oust the elected Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi four years ago, Sissi has portrayed himself as a linchpin in the fight against terrorism. In the name of combating the Islamist militancy, critics say he has suppressed political and social freedoms, and jailed thousands of Islamists. Egypt is one of the world’s largest recipients of American military aid, a large portion of it designated to fight terrorism.


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