Egypt deployed reinforcements to Sinai as the president’s office said all options were open in dealing with the “criminals” who took hostage seven security forces personnel.
The army moved in dozens of items of heavy equipment, including personnel carriers and tanks, the state-run Ahram Gate website reported, citing unidentified security officials. President Mohamed Mursi said yesterday there would be no discussions with the kidnappers, and local media reported that a military operation was planned to free the six Interior Ministry personnel and an army conscript who were kidnapped May 16.
The incident was the most serious security breach in the peninsula since unidentified gunmen killed 16 Egyptian border guards in August. It has added to pressure on Mursi, who has faced criticism that he is reluctant to approve a military operation, on top of charges that he has neglected the economy and failed to restore law and order after the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.
“There is no dispute between the supreme commander of the armed forces” and the military or other state bodies, presidency spokesman Omar Amer told reporters in Cairo today, referring to Mursi. Amer said all options, including military action, are being considered, and there’s agreement that the hostages must be freed safely and no blood should be spilled.
Bedouin in the Sinai complained of neglect under Mubarak, and the area has become increasingly lawless since his fall, as tribes resorted to violence to press their demands for better treatment, or to free jailed relatives.
The area borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, and is awash with weapons, many arriving from Libya. Mursi’s government has pledged to develop the strategic peninsula.
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, rejects the policy of “collective punishment adopted by the former regime” in relation to Sinai, its secretary-general, Hussein Ibrahim, said in a statement.
Ibrahim said the FJP won’t succumb to “blackmail” and is counting on government and security officials to “take the right decisions that guarantee the safety of the kidnapped soldiers and defend the prestige of the state.”
The hostages were shown in a YouTube video yesterday, wearing blindfolds and urging Mursi to respond to their captors’ demands, including the release of “Sinai political detainees.” The authenticity of the video, circulated on social media sites, couldn’t be independently verified. It appeared the same day Mursi met with heads of some political parties to discuss the kidnapping.
In a separate incident, Egyptian forces exchanged fire with unidentified gunmen who shot at a central security camp in north Sinai, Brigadier General Mohamed Saeed, head of criminal investigations in the region, said by phone today.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com