At least ten people, including three policemen, were killed Tuesday in a bank robbery suspicted to be linked to Islamic militants in southern Egypt during which automatic weapons were used, police said.
The police said the attack on the two bank branches in al-Maragha, around 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Cairo, could have been carried out by a gang of Islamic fundamentalists.
They said an unknown number of assailants opened fire on police guarding a branch of Misr Bank mid-morning killing one officer, but employees managed to lock the doors from inside.
They then moved to a nearby branch of the National Bank of Egypt and fired on police before entering the building and shooting at the employees. At least ten people were left dead, police said.
The group made off with around 1.3 million Egyptian pounds (around 350,000 dollars) from the second bank, the police said, adding that according to initial findings, one of the assailants was among those killed.
They showed that a total of three policemen and at least two employees were killed along with an unspecified number of bystanders.
Egypt's armed Jamaa Islamiya militant group robbed several banks in southern Egypt in the mid 1990s to help fund its operations against the governments interests, including foreign tourists, which have stopped since 1997.
If it is confirmed that Islamists extremists carried out Tuesday's attack, it would be the first armed operation since 58 foreign tourists were gunned down in the southern Pharaonic ruins at Luxor in November 1997.
Jamaa Islamiya officially declared that they had stopped using violence in March 1999, but southern Egypt remains under tight security because of the continued Islamist presence and the large number of tourist sites there.
The group's military chief, Alaa Abdel Razeq Attiya, who was responsible for the Luxor attack, was killed on October 18 by security forces in Aswan, also in southern Egypt -- CAIRO (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)