AFP – Unidentified gunmen on Thursday kidnapped three Egyptian policemen and four soldiers in the Sinai peninsula, security officials said.
The servicemen were travelling to Cairo when the minibuses they were in were stopped at gunpoint in Al-Wadi al-Akhdar region which lies east of El-Areesh in north Sinai, they said.
The three captured policemen are from the Central Security Forces, the branch of the interior ministry used to quell protest. The four other men belong to the armed forces. The two groups were travelling in separate minibuses, officials said.
“The kidnappers have not issued any demands yet,” a security official said.
Local Bedouin leaders have been called in to mediate between authorities and the kidnappers. According to Bedouin sources, it is believed the kidnappers want the release of certain prisoners.
A spate of hostage takings, which usually last for no longer than 48 hours, broke out in Sinai after an uprising forced out president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 and battered his security services.
Islamist militants have exploited the lawlessness and upheaval in the Sinai peninsula to establish a launchpad for increasingly brazen attacks on security forces, a key gas export pipeline and on neighbouring Israel.
The Sinai kidnappers are usually Bedouin who want to trade the hostages for jailed fellow tribesmen.
Bedouin have recently kidnapped tourists from Hungary, Israeli and Norway in the south of the peninsula, which is dotted with beach resorts, to press for the release of jailed relatives.
Last month, at least two Grad rockets fired from Sinai exploded in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Over the past few years, there has been intermittent rocket fire on Eilat from Sinai.
In April last year, a rocket fired from Sinai hit Eilat but caused no casualties, with police finding another unexploded rocket near the city days later.
In August, another two rockets rocked Eilat, again injuring no-one.
Since the collapse of Mubarak’s regime, Israel’s border with Sinai has seen multiple security incidents, with militants using the lawless peninsula to stage attacks on the Jewish state.
The most serious incident was in August 2011, when gunmen infiltrated southern Israel and staged a series of ambushes that killed eight Israelis.