Gunmen stole an Egyptian military vehicle in the northern Sinai Peninsula on Sunday night, forcefully ejecting an officer and soldier who were riding in it.

The perpetrators stopped the vehicle near the city of el-Arish, forced the army men out, and fled, according to Israel Radio.

The incident follows months of sporadic clashes between the Egyptian military and armed militants in the Sinai.

Extremist militants operate in disparate groups in the peninsula and are believed to have grown in numbers since last year’s political upheaval following the ouster of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

The surge in militancy has largely been due to a security vacuum in the aftermath of the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak and heavy weapons smuggled from Libya across the desert to Sinai, which links Egypt’s borders with the Gaza Strip and Israel.

In a brazen attack, unidentified militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers near the border in August and last month, heavily armed militants wearing explosive belts opened fire on Israeli soldiers near the border, killing one.

Under Mubarak, Sinai’s largely nomadic Bedouin population was long neglected and discriminated against. As a result, the region became a hub of weapons, drugs and human trafficking. Cities and towns bordering Israel and Gaza live off smuggling across borders and underground tunnels.

Mubarak’s regime often rounded up hundreds of Sinai young men, held them without charges or sentenced them before military tribunals, delivering swift and harsh verdicts.

Egypt’s new leader, Mohammed Morsi, hails from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, whose members had been routinely rounded up and tried under Mubarak. Morsi has sought to reverse the perception of security sweeps, police torture and abuse by the authorities — even as he launched military operations to hunt down perpetrators of the large-scale August attack.