Updated at 2:14 p.m. ET
CAIRO - A small bomb exploded near Egypt's iconic pyramids on Wednesday, badly injuring three peddlers of tourist trinkets that police said were trying to open the casing of the old abandoned munition.
The bomb exploded some 500 feet from the pyramids outside Cairo after the peddlers saw the edge of the device sticking out of the sand and began hitting it with iron sticks under the impression there were valuables inside, said security officials.
The three men were seriously wounded, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
It was not clear how a leftover piece of ordnance ended up in the desert near the pyramids, where no major battle has been fought since 1798, when Napoleon's army routed Egypt's Mamluk rulers in a pitched battle.
Millions of tourists visit the site annually and take camel and horseback rides around the grounds of the 4,500 year old monuments.
Egypt was the site of titanic tank battles during World War II, but these were confined to the deserts around the northern coast and the later wars with neighboring Israel were focused around the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula, far to the east.
No extremist group has claimed the bomb, nor have any groups made public threats against the ancient site.
The explosion may further rattle tourists, who have largely stayed away from the country since demonstrators overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Crime and lawlessness have been on the rise in the once tightly controlled country, with police reluctant to head back to their posts.