Egypt FM Sameh Shoukry (Reuters)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry explained to CNN on Monday the reasons for the current restrictions on media access to North Sinai, telling anchor Christiane Amanpour that foreign journalists traveling in the area might be targeted by terrorist groups.
In a video interview with Amanpour published on the CNN website, Shoukry said that, while press freedom is "very important", North Sinai is an area of ongoing military conflict, where terrorists target foreign nationals as well as locals.
Under such circumstances, the minister said, it is safer to make the region off-limits to foreign journalists.
The exchange follows Twitter comments from foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abou Zeid on Sunday criticizing CNN's "deplorable coverage" of Friday's mosque attack in the North Sinai town of Bir Al-Abd that left 305 worshippers dead.
Abou Zeid said on Sunday that the US network's anchor was "more interested in reporters' access to Sinai than those who lost their lives."
In Monday's interview with Shourky, Amanpour continued to pursue the issue of journalistic access to North Sinai, asking why many requests by journalists to report from the border region had been refused by the government.
"That area of Sinai is an area of military activities and conflicts," replied the minister. "We have seen terrorists most often target foreign nationals, in addition to Egyptian nationals, to terrorize ... and intimidate them into submission to their ideology."
The minister said the pain of the victims and the magnitude of the massacre – the deadliest in Egypt's recent history – is more worthwhile reporting.
“The issue is the lives lost, the children that have been lost and how that is impacting, not only the society there, but Egypt generally. We are in a state of mourning," he said.
“The issue is the terrorism, the barbarism and the ideology behind it, which is targeting the intimidation and destabilization, not only of the Sinai, but of Egypt and the region as a whole,” Shoukry said.
Egypt is gathering information on Friday's deadly attack and working to identify the perpetrators, he added.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the massacre.
The minister said that his government has done everything within its power to protect its citizens, whether in Sinai or elsewhere, but he stressed that terrorists always find a way to target civilians.
"No government is able to protect each and every citizen," he said.
"But we must do our utmost to deal with the terrorist threat and eradicate it through the utilization of our own intelligence abilities [and] through the cooperation and assistance of our international partners."
He went on to say that no state can undertake war against terrorism on its own, and such efforts must be a "collaborative activity" by the international community.
Shoukry has renewed his warning about growing numbers of fighters crossing national borders and fleeing areas of conflict in Iraq and Syria following fresh losses and the defeat of the Daesh group there.
"There is a potential that some foreign fighters that have fled the areas of conflict might infiltrate other parts of the region, whether Egypt, Libya or sub-Saharan Africa," he said.
On Friday, at least 305 people were killed and 128 others wounded during Friday prayers at Al-Rawdah Mosque in the town of Bir Al-Abd in North Sinai.
The terrorist attack was conducted by up to 30 men in pick-up trucks, according to eye-witnesses, who say the attackers were flying the black flag of the Daesh terrorist group.