Mohammed Asad, Associated Press
Egyptians carry five coffins of policemen killed after masked gunmen opened fire at a police checkpoint in el-Wassta district in the province of Bani Suief, south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.

CAIRO — Drive-by assailants gunned down five police officers at a checkpoint in the south of Egypt early Thursday, state media reported, in the most serious attack against security forces in nearly a month.

In addition to the five killed, two officers were wounded in the attack in the governorate of Beni Suief, about 80 miles south of the capital, the Interior Ministry said.

The attack took place two days before the anniversary of the start of the 2011 uprising against authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak — a date that is also a holiday honoring the country’s police. Tens of thousands of police and soldiers were to be deployed to stave off any unrest.

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Attacks against security forces by suspected Islamic militants have mainly taken place in the volatile Sinai peninsula, but mainland Egypt has been hit by violence as well. A bombing on Dec. 24 at a security headquarters in the northern city of Mansoura killed at least 15 people, about two-thirds of them police officers.

A Sinai-based militant group claimed responsibility for that attack, but the interim government instead cast blame on the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement with which ousted President Mohamed Morsi is affiliated, and subsequently declared the group a terrorist organization.

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