CAIRO (AP) — Dozens of disgruntled border policemen forced the closure of Egypt’s main crossing point into the Gaza Strip on Friday to protest the abduction of their colleagues by suspected militants, underscoring the country’s lawlessness and its crisis of authority two years since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
The police protest comes one day after masked gunmen ambushed two taxis at gunpoint outside the city of el-Arish, the capital of North Sinai governorate, fleeing with four border policemen working at the Rafah crossing, a riot policeman, and a military border guard. Officials have not identified a seventh captive.
At Rafah terminal, one of the protesting policemen said that they will keep it closed until their colleagues are freed.
“We are not leaving until those men return. We want Sinai to be secure. We need more police and army. Sinai is under control of the jihadists. The state is absent,” he said over the phone from the crossing. “We are not safe here. The police are afraid. Since the revolution until this minute, nothing has changed or improved.”
He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Authorities say the kidnappers were reacting to the alleged torture of a militant sentenced to death in prison, and are in contact with mediators to obtain the captives’ release.
It is not clear what the kidnappers want, but a security official says the police officer accused of torturing the militant has been summoned for questioning while the imprisoned militants were reportedly transferred to another prison.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The militant, named Hamada Abu-Sheta, was convicted along with 11 others for their alleged involvement in a 2011 attack on a police station that left four dead. One of the kidnappers was identified by security authorities as Karim Allam, also sentenced in the same case to death in absentia.
Lawlessness in the Sinai has increased after the breakdown of country’s formerly powerful security forces.
Islamic militants have stepped up attacks on police stations and security convoys. Bedouin tribal gangs are involved in smuggling and other criminal activity. A flow of weapons from Libya’s 2011 civil has emboldened armed groups.
The killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in August last year at the hands of masked militants marked a turning point in the Sinai. The military conducted several anti-militant sweeps but no attackers have been publically identified.
Lawlessness in the Sinai is also linked to political discontent. Local tribes accuse the central government of discrimination, neglect, and police brutality.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi has presided over the military operations but has also signaled he prefers mediation. On Thursday, he called for the “protection of the lives” of both the “abducted and the kidnappers” and said that the solutions to Sinai’s problems should not be through “abductions and terrorizing citizens.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.