CAIRO – Suspected militants in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula abducted six security personnel, including a border guard, as they headed to Cairo for holidays early Thursday, security officials said.
The officials said masked gunmen ambushed two taxis at gunpoint outside the city of el-Arish, the capital of North Sinai governorate, early Thursday. The gunmen then fled with five policemen and one border guard, none of whom were in uniform. The officials earlier said seven men had been kidnapped but revised the figure after they confirmed one of the policemen was already on holidays.
Four of the policemen work in the Rafah border terminal leading to the Gaza Strip, and one was in a riot police unit deployed in the peninsula. The border guard was a member of the military.
The officials said they have identified the kidnappers and suspect they held the security members hostage to demand the release of other militants held in prison.
It was the first time members of Egypt's security forces were kidnapped by suspected militants. Egypt's state news agency said President Mohammed Morsi held an emergency meeting with the defense and interior ministers to discuss the kidnapping.
Disgruntled Bedouin tribesmen in the increasingly lawless peninsula have briefly held tourists to demand the release of their relatives held on criminal charges.
Criminals and Islamic militant groups have exploited a security vacuum that developed in the Sinai since the 2011 uprising against longtime autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. The militants have increased their presence in the area, which lies along the border with Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as Israel. They often target police stations and security forces there, and were last year suspected to be behind one of the worst attacks in modern history against the Egyptian military — a raid near the border that left 16 soldiers dead. The perpetrators of the August 2011 attack however remain unidentified.
Weapons have also flowed into the peninsula from Libya, posing an additional challenge to the security forces there.
The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. They said forces in the Sinai were on high alert, particularly along the border with the Gaza Strip.
Associated Press Writer Ashraf Sweilam contributed to this report from southern Sinai.