CAIRO, July 19 (Reuters) - Smugglers armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades killed 15 Egyptian military border guards near the frontier with Libya on Saturday, security officials said, highlighting a growing security challenge for authorities who believe Islamist militants move weapons across the area.
The attack took place in Wadi al-Gadid governorate, which borders both Sudan and Libya. Two smugglers were killed in clashes with the guards.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly expressed concerns that militants who have capitalised on the chaos in Libya and set up operations along the border pose a threat to the Cairo government.
Security officials say militants based in camps over the Libyan border pay smugglers to transport weapons, including machineguns, to comrades in Egypt, which is facing an Islamist insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula near Israel.
Tribal smugglers told Reuters they charge up to one million Egyptian pounds ($140,000) to move weapons in four-by-four vehicles along desert routes.
Five border guards were killed in a similar attack in the same area a few months ago.
Security officials say militants along the Libyan border harbor ambitions similar to the al Qaeda breakaway group that has seized large swathes of Iraq - they want to topple Sisi and create a caliphate in Egypt.
Sisi, who has warned that Islamist militants ravaging the Middle East pose a threat to everyone, has said Egypt will not allow Libya's turmoil to threaten Egypt's national security.
Egypt considered launching a cross-border offensive several months ago in a bid to crush the militants, according to two Egyptian national security officials. (Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)