Militants abducted seven members of the Egyptian security forces at gunpoint last Thursday in the Sinai peninsula. The Egyptian government sent more military personnel to the area which holds a history of attacks targeting security forces.
Local sources say masked gunmen kidnapped the three policemen and four army officers as they drove in a taxi from Arish to Rafah. The kidnappers released a YouTube video of the seven men, four of whom worked at the Rafah border crossing, urging the government to meet the captors’ demands. A security official told Reuters the hostage takers want a number of al-Tawhid wal Jihad members to be released. In September, a court sentenced 14 supporters of the Islamist militant group to death, and other four to life imprisonment, after they killed six security officials during a 2011 attack in Sinai.
Egyptian border policemen shout at the closed Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza to protest the abduction of their colleagues. (Photo: AP)
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi convened a meeting with his defense and interior ministers on the day of the incident. The central government called upon local bedouin leaders to mediate with the militants. According to Ma’an News Agency, military officials also readied the deployment of a “large combat force” to the region. In subsequent days Morsi appears have changed course asserting a hard new line with the Jihadists saying there is “no room for dialogue with the criminals.”
Egyptian police closed the Rafah border crossing with Gaza to protest the kidnappings, leaving around 800 Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side of the border. The Egyptian authorities sped up their campaign to destroy smuggling tunnels into Gaza and also closed an airport and seaport in el-Arish.
Even after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, local bedouin in Sinai continue to feel economically disenfranchised helping to fuel resentment against the central government. In August 2012, Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards in a single attack. Instability and lawlessness help provide cover for Jihadist and smugglers with arms from Sudan and Libya.