Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stressed on Thursday the need to continue the operation in Sinai and arrest the kidnappers, following the release of seven Egyptian soldiers abducted this week.
During a meeting with Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and head of General Intel Raafat Shehata, President Morsi emphasised that they must continue to work to detain the perpetrators, whose identities are known to the interior ministry, according to a statement issued earlier in the week.
President Morsi also stressed the importance of providing the public with information concerning the progress of the operation, which is ongoing, according to officials.
Last week, unknown assailants kidnapped seven Egyptian soldiers and released a video showing the soldiers wearing blinders, asking for the president’s help. The kidnappers demands were announced via one of the soldiers and included the release of a number of Jihadist prisoners.
Several state institutions, including the interior ministry, defence ministry, general intelligence and military intelligence, said they worked together to free the hostages and took tentative steps until the soldiers were released.
Details concerning these efforts were not reported. Officials insisted that the soldiers’ rescue came without any negotiations with the militants who kidnapped them.
However, an anonymous government source speaking to Al-Ahram Arabic-language news website contradicted the claim, saying that mediation with the kidnappers had taken place.
The source said the kidnapping was accidental, meaning the kidnappers were not aiming to abduct army personnel but were pleased when the car they stopped turned out to carry soldiers.
The source added that the kidnapping came as a result of the government ignoring protests in Sinai against the alleged torture of a jihadist militant serving a life sentence.
Military spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Ali said in a press conference on Wednesday that "freeing the soldiers was only one step in our operation."
For his part, North Sinai Security Chief Samih Bashadi said security forces would continue to combat "outlaws" in Sinai.
The Sinai Peninsula has been plagued with a chronic security vacuum and since the 2011 revolution, witnessing frequent clashes between heavily-armed tribal militants and security forces.
Some Sinai residents seek revenge on security forces after years of heavy-handed security policies under Mubarak-era interior minister Habib El-Adly, who many accused of failing to respect human rights and local traditions.
Last Thursday's incident was the first time for soldiers to be abducted.
Tourists are frequently kidnapped in Sinai by residents who want grievances addressed, with hostages usually released unharmed.
In August, 2012, 16 Egyptian border guards were killed in an attack by unknown assailants.