Egypt army sends reinforcements to Sinai after kidnapping

Reuters News
Posted: May 20, 2013 1:48 AM

By Yousri Mohamed

EL-ARISH, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt's army sent reinforcements into the Sinai Peninsula on Monday after President Mohamed Mursi said there would be no talks with militant Islamists who have abducted seven members of the security forces.

A military official said the decision followed a meeting between the military leadership and Mursi, who has said he will not submit to blackmail by the kidnappers, who are demanding the release of militant Islamists jailed over attacks in 2011.

The kidnapping has highlighted the lawlessness in the peninsula and enraged security forces, who have blocked border crossings into Israel and the Gaza Strip to pressure the government into helping free their colleagues.

Presidential spokesman Omar Amer said: "All options are on the table to free the kidnapped soldiers."

Witnesses saw armored personnel carriers moving east over the Suez Canal towards the North Sinai area where militants staged last week's abduction and where gunmen attacked a police base on Monday.

The state-run Al-Ahram newspaper said on its website that shipping in the Suez Canal had been briefly halted as the reinforcements crossed the waterway.

"Our patience has run out," Al-Ahram quoted a military official as saying in its print edition.

Islamist militant groups have expanded into a security vacuum in Sinai that the state has struggled to fill since Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in 2011. The groups have attacked targets in North Sinai and launched raids into Israel.

Mursi said on Sunday there would be no talks with "the criminals". The kidnappers are demanding the release of militants convicted last year of the attacks that killed seven people, six of them members of the security forces.

A video posted online on Sunday showed seven blindfolded men with their hands bound above their heads, who said they were the hostages, begging Mursi to free political detainees in Sinai in exchange for their own release. The video, which was the first sign of the hostages since their kidnapping, could not be independently verified.

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Al-Masry Al-Youm, an independent newspaper, reported that parents and friends of the seven men who appeared in the video had confirmed their identities.

In Monday's attack, militants opened fire on the riot police facility in Al-Ahrash from a truck, security officials said. Security forces shot back at the gunmen, who were most likely hardline Islamists, they said. There were no casualties.

In August last year, 16 Egyptian border guards were killed in an attack blamed on Islamists who then hijacked an armored vehicle that they smashed across the border into Israel, where they were killed by Israeli forces.

(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed and Maggie Fick; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)