A group of six Egyptian security officer were kidnapped in the Sinai peninsula near the border with Israel early Thursday.
Five policemen and one soldier were nabbed at gun point by militants while riding in two mini buses from El-Arish to Rafah in northern Sinai, sources said. The six, none of whom were reportedly in uniform, were reportedly on their way to vacation.
Officials earlier said seven men had been kidnapped but revised the figure after they confirmed one of the policemen was already on holiday.
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.
Local Bedouin leaders were asked to mediate in negotiations, which are thought to revolve around the release of jihadi prisoners, AFP reported.
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.
According to the BBC, Egypt stepped up security along the border with Gaza out of fear that Jihadi groups may try and smuggle the kidnapped officers into the Strip.
The Sinai has not been the site of a large-scale anti-terror operation by Egypt since a terror attack near Rafah last August that left 16 Egyptian border policemen dead. Terrorists, mostly based in northern Sinai, have used the territory to launch attacks against the Jewish state and to smuggle weapons into the Gaza strip.
The area was mostly demilitarized following the Israel-Egypt peace accords in 1979 and large swaths became largely lawless until Egypt launched a counter-offensive after the August 2012 attack.
Bedouin tribesmen in the peninsula have been known to kidnap Western tourists to use as bargaining chips for the release of relatives from Egyptian prison. The tourists are usually released unharmed after a few days.
On Wednesday, Egyptian state prosecutors said three suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants detained over the weekend were plotting to attack the US and French embassies in Cairo using car bombs, MENA reported.
Officials said when they announced the arrests Saturday that the men had been in contact with Dawood al-Assady, a leader of al-Qaeda in southeast Asian countries, and that the group was planning suicide attacks on government buildings and a foreign embassy.
The interior minister denied that al-Qaeda is active in Egypt, but said the three men were in contact with al-Qaeda militants abroad.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.