The Egyptian Army sent reinforcements into the Sinai Peninsula yesterday after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said there would be no talks with militant Islamists who have abducted seven members of the security forces.
An Egyptian military official said the decision followed a meeting between the military leadership and Morsi, 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 policemen, who worked at border crossings, and soldiers were kidnapped at gunpoint while travelling to their homes on leave.
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.
“All options are on the table to free the kidnapped soldiers,” Morsi spokesman Omar Amer said.
Witnesses saw armored personnel carriers moving east over the Suez Canal toward the North Sinai Governorate, where militants staged last week’s abduction and where gunmen attacked a police base yesterday.
Security officials said 17 military and more than 20 police armored vehicles were deployed to the province. It was not clear if they were there as a prelude to a rescue attempt.
The state-run Al-Ahram newspaper said on its Web site 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 former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in 2011. The groups have attacked targets in North Sinai and launched raids into Israel.
Morsi on Sunday said 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 Morsi 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.
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.
Officials have said mediators were in touch with the captors.
In yesterday’s attack, militants opened fire on the riot police facility in al-Ahrash from a truck, security officials said. There were no casualties.
A security official quoted by state news agency MENA said assailants opened fire “for 25 minutes using heavy weapons” against the camp.
“Personnel in charge of camp security managed to repel the attack and forced the armed men to flee,” he said, adding that a hunt was underway.
This story has been amended since it was first published.