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Egypt: Gunmen kill 3 riot police during Islamist rally in Cairo; attack hits Sinai pipeline

Riot police stand near a police vehicle after gunmen in a drive-by shooting killed several Egyptian policemen and wounded others during an overnight rally by Islamist students at Al-Azhar University, in the capital, Cairo, Egypt, early Monday May, 20, 2014. A statement from an Al-Azhar student movement said the shooting took place after their rally had ended. The attack raises security concerns ahead of presidential elections next week. (AP Photo/Hussein Tallal)

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Riot police stand near a police vehicle after gunmen in a drive-by shooting killed several Egyptian policemen and wounded others during an overnight rally by Islamist students at Al-Azhar University, in the capital, Cairo, Egypt, early Monday May, 20, 2014. A statement from an Al-Azhar student movement said the shooting took place after their rally had ended. The attack raises security concerns ahead of presidential elections next week. (AP Photo/Hussein Tallal)

CAIRO - Gunmen in a drive-by shooting killed three Egyptian policemen and wounded nine during an overnight rally by Islamist students in the capital, Cairo, authorities said Tuesday.

The attack raises security concerns ahead of presidential elections next week, a vote the country's retired army chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is widely expected to win. El-Sissi led the military when it ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last July.

The Interior Ministry said about 250 students from the religious Al-Azhar University took to the streets late Monday night to show their support for Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group.

As riot police tried to quell the demonstration, three gunmen in a speeding car opened fire from behind them, killing three and wounding nine before fleeing the scene, the ministry said.

A statement from an Al-Azhar student movement said the shooting took place after their rally had ended. It blamed authorities for negligence they say allowed such attacks to take place.

The authorities are "focusing their efforts on silencing the students daily instead of protecting the citizens and officers and restoring security," the statement said. "What occurred is a crime we condemn in the strongest possible terms, and we hold the coup authorities responsible for all the Egyptian blood being spilled daily in the universities, streets and squares."

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but two al-Qaida-inspired groups, one based in the Sinai Peninsula, have carried out scores of similar attacks on military and police targets in recent months.

Al-Azhar University is a hotbed for Brotherhood students, who have been rioting almost daily, both inside the campus and in the surrounding streets, since Morsi was deposed last summer. The university has dismissed more than 70 students for taking part in rallies that turned violent and destroyed furniture and equipment on the campus.

Meanwhile, state news agency MENA said suspected militants blew up a natural gas pipeline in the restive Sinai late on Monday.

The report said the explosion, which took place south of the provincial capital of el-Arish, sparked a fire but that all valves were immediately closed to stop the flow of gas. The pipeline carries natural gas to an industrial area in central Sinai and also to Jordan.

Militant strikes on pipelines in Sinai have proliferated in recent years. The gas pipeline has been hit over 20 times since the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak and a subsequent security vacuum.

The al-Qaida-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group, based in the peninsula, has claimed responsibility for most of those bombings.

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