In this still image taken from video, security personnel and spectators gather at the scene of a suicide bombing just steps away from the ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak in the southern city of Luxor, Egypt (AP)
Security forces have foiled an attack on an important tourist site in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor, killing two militants and injuring a third, the interior ministry has announced.
Police prevented three terrorists on Wednesday from entering the Karnak temple, a distinguished ancient Egyptian monument on Luxor's east bank, the ministry said in a statement. The site includes a large variety of ancient Egyptian structures such as temples, chapels, pylons and shrines that were built in between the reigns of the Middle Kingdom King Senusert I right through to the Ptolemaic period.
Two of the militants were killed when a bomb one of them was carrying blew up. Another was injured by gunshots to the head.
The attack also left one of the temple staff injured, but caused no casualties among temple visitors or security forces, the ministry added.
However, health ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar told Ahram Online that the assault left five injured, including civilians and members of security forces.
Eyewitnesses told Al-Ahram Arabic news website that at least three gunmen shot in the air in the vicinity of the Karnak temple, on the eastern bank of the Nile.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which carries the hallmark of Islamist militants based in the border Sinai region who have escalated deadly attacks since the 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
The violence had previously spared tourist sites, mostly targeting security checkpoints and government infrastructure with bombings and shootings.
Wednesday's attack is the first in the ancient city since November 1997 when Islamist militants shot their way into the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor's Valley of the Queens, killing 62 people.
Luxor is home to some of the world's greatest ancient temples and pharaonic tombs.
Last week, gunmen shot dead two members of Egypt's tourism and antiquities police forces on a road near the Giza pyramids.
In February 2014, a bombing of a tourist bus in the Sinai which killed two South Koreans and an Egyptian driver was reminiscent of an Islamist insurrection in the 1990s that often targeted tourists and took authorities years to put down.
Following the attack on Wednesday, Egypt's antiquities minister issued orders to beef up security at antiquities sites countrywide in coordination with the interior ministry, in remarks carried by state news agency MENA on Wednesday.
MENA added the minister was due to head to Luxor to inspect the scene of the assault and take necessary measures to "guarantee full protection of the archaeological site and its visitors."
"The Ministry of Tourism and the government of Egypt place the highest priority on the safety of tourists in our country," read an English-language statement from the tourism ministry on the attack.
It added that security measures in place at all tourist sites have been intensified as "we continue to take every possible measure to ensure that no harm comes to anyone visiting Egypt."