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CAIRO (Reuters) - A Libyan captured in a raid on a militant group blamed for a deadly attack on Egyptian police said on Thursday that he and other foreign fighters loosely linked to al Qaeda had been operating out of Egypt's western desert since January.

A new and little-known group called Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the October attack, posing a new threat to Egyptian security forces battling a stubborn Islamic State insurgency in the Sinai peninsula since 2013.

The Interior Ministry said on Thursday that Abdelrahim Mohamed al-Mesmari, from the Libyan city of Derna, was captured by Egyptian forces following the attack in the western desert in which authorities have said 16 policemen were killed.

In an interview with Mesmari, aired on the private al-Hayat television station, he said he and his fellow militants followed an ideology close to that of al Qaeda’s and considered the United States their biggest enemy. They also oppose Islamic State, he said.

"If I fight based on my beliefs, I will hopefully be rewarded," said Mesmari, who added that he had first joined a jihadist group in 2014.

"We did not know the police were monitoring us," he said.

It was not clear what conditions he spoke under from captivity.

Egypt killed 15 militants during the raid against the group it blamed for the October attack. All were trained in Derna and a total of 29 were taken captive, according to the Interior Ministry.

Attacks on security forces have become more common since the army led by general-turned-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who presents himself as a bulwark against militant extremism, ousted elected President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty; Writing by Arwa Gaballa; Editing by Tom Brown)

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Reuters