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CAIRO (Reuters) - At least five policemen and four alleged smugglers were killed on Tuesday in a shootout near a northern Egyptian town after security forces tried to stop a vehicle suspected of carrying weapons and explosives, security sources said.
The attack happened in the Mediterranean province of Marsa Matrouh, about 175 km (110 miles) west of the city of Alexandria, in a coastal area popular with beachgoers.
Egypt has been hit by an Islamist insurgency, which is based mainly in the Sinai Peninsula near Israel, since the army ousted elected president Mohamed Mursi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood last year.
Security officials say militants operating from neighbouring Libya are trying to forge ties with Islamists in the Sinai.
They say militants pay smugglers to transport weapons, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, to comrades in Egypt.
The security sources said the smugglers had opened fire on police after being stopped at a checkpoint, and that the security forces had returned fire. They said the death toll could still rise.
The source and destination of the vehicle were not immediately clear, as the attack occurred about 400 km east of the Libyan border.
Last month, gunmen killed 21 Egyptian border guards near the frontier with Libya.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly expressed concerns about militants who have capitalised on the chaos in Libya and set up operations along the border, adding a further source of instability to an economy struggling to recover from over three years of political turmoil.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, Yasmine Saleh and Mostafa Hashem; Editing by Kevin Liffey)