The abduction of seven Egyptian security personnel last week in the Sinai Peninsula was an unplanned act by aggrieved local Sinai residents, a high-ranking government official was quoted as saying by Ahram's Arabic-language website on Wednesday.
Seven security personnel were held captive by kidnappers for almost a week before being abruptly released on Wednesday as preparations for an intensive rescue operation by the Egyptian army was gathering steam.
The kidnappers had earlier demanded the release of a number of prisoners, including Ahmed Abu Shita, who was sentenced to death in September for being involved in a string of attacks in June/July 2011 on an Al-Arish city police station and a bank, in which five security officers and one civilian died.
At a press conference held on Wednesday, officials from the armed forces insisted there had not been negotiations with the abductors to free the kidnapped men. However, an anonymous government source speaking to Ahram contradicted the account, saying that mediation with the kidnappers had taken place.
"Some people protested in Al-Wadi Al-Akhdar [east of Al-Arish city] for two consecutive days last week against the alleged police torture of Abu Shita," said the official.
"After they found that the police forces ignored them, they decided to seize any chance to clash with them as a way of escalation. They decided to block the road linking Al-Arish with Sheikh Zuwaid and stopped the first car that passed, which was carrying the soldiers.
"When the kidnappers demanded people in the car show their IDs, the driver told them they were not ordinary citizens, they were soldiers.”
"One of the abductors then replied: 'This is exactly what we want.' When those people blocked the road they had no intention of kidnapping the soldiers, they were just making any attempt to provoke the police into action," the official added.
The official also said it was difficult for the army to launch an attack because it had no accurate information about the exact location of the kidnappers.
"Accordingly, a peaceful solution was being prepared through the mediation of some men who convinced the kidnappers to release the soldiers," he said.