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An Egyptian security official says police have killed four suspected militants in a shootout with forces in a southern province.

He says the militants were killed in an exchange of fire as security forces raided their hideout in the town al-Ghanaim in Assiut province, some 40km south of the capital Cairo.

The official spoke on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief media.

Egypt, which has been under a state of emergency since April last year, has been battling Islamic militants for years, but the insurgency gained strength after the 2013 overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president. The militants have mainly targeted security forces and Christians.

In February, Egypt launched a security operation against militants across the county, mainly in Sinai.

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