Churches in Egypt have denounced the killing of at least 16 police officers who died in an ambush during a raid on a militant hideout in the southwest of Cairo on Friday.
Two police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that the ambush took place late Friday in the al-Wahat al-Bahriya area in Giza province, about 135 kilometers (84 miles) southwest of Cairo.
Some reports indicated that as many as 54 police officers, including 20 officers and 34 conscripts, had been killed in the attack. But a statement from Egypt's Ministry of Interior said that 16 members of the security forces, including 11 officers and four conscripts, died in the ambush. Thirteen more were wounded and at least 15 militants were reportedly killed in the firefight.
The Orthodox church, led by Pope Tawadros, offered condolences to the families of those who were killed and expressed its support for the Egyptian government's battle against terrorism.
"We will always remain supporters of all efforts and sacrifices of the army and police in their fights against terrorism," a statement from the church said, according to Christian Today.
Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki, the head of Egypt's Evangelical Church, also expressed support for the country's political leaders and security forces in the fight against terror, and asserted the importance of bringing the terrorists and their supporters to justice.
The Egyptian militant group Hassm has reportedly claimed responsibility for the ambush, but some militancy experts have questioned the authenticity of the claim.
Egyptian authorities said that the group is the armed militant wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed in 2013.
Egypt's State Information Service has dismissed the reports that at least 50 members of police and security forces had been killed.
The agency issued a statement accusing foreign media outlets of "intentional manipulation," and denied the number of victims that they reported, stressing that the figures provided by the Ministry of Interior are confirmed to be correct.
Two audio recordings believed to be conversations between police officers who took part in the operation has since circulated online.
One police officer, who is apparently using a two-way radio, was heard in the two-minute recording calling for help while fleeing.
"We are the only ones injured, sir. We were 10 but three were killed. After their injury, they bled to death, sir," the police officer said, according to The Associated Press.
"They took all the weapons and ammunition, We are now at the foot of a mountain," he continued.
In the other recording, another policeman was heard issuing a warning to others. "I can't identify any direction. Only planes can see us. Take care every one," he said, adding that militants were pursuing them.
The ambush came just days after militants carried out an attack on a military outpost in North Sinai, killing at least six soldiers.
Militants have mostly targeted police and armed forces, but they have also stepped up their attacks outside the Sinai, targeting Egypt's Christians with bomb attacks on churches in Cairo and other cities.