After the third kidnapping attempt since the beginning of April, dozens of Al-Arish locals staged riots and blocked roads leading to main squares in the city on Friday, according to sources.
The protesters blocked several roads to demonstrate anger over the “lack of security” in the city.
Member of Parliament (MP) Hossam Tawfiq told Daily News Egypt that the Friday protests were staged primarily by members of Al-Fawakhryia tribe. “This is the third incident of kidnapping to take place since the beginning of April,” he added.
The first was in the beginning of April, when an 82-year-old senior member of Al-Fawakhryia tribe was kidnapped by militants believed to be members of the Sinai Province group. The second one was a civilian, but the attempt failed. The perpetrator then reportedly stole a car and some belongings of the mentioned civilian.
The final, which pushed the limits of the locals, was the kidnapping of a businessperson named Mohamed Al-Kously. The incident took place Thursday night.
According to a member of Al-Fawakhryia tribe, who remained anonymous for security reasons, the young people from the tribe chased down the militants, who allegedly kidnapped their relatives and took them to the north of Al-Arish, but the militants fired at the locals to end the chase.
He added that “militants are allowed to go in and out of the city, kill, steal, and kidnap civilians with full freedom, clarifying that the police only move when a disaster takes place.”
Atlawy Square, Al-Falah, and the 23 July Street were closed and several car tires burned after the kidnapping.
Tawfiq explained that this state of anger is not limited to Al-Fawakhryia and is extending to the whole city. The presence of the army is very limited—outside the premises of the city—leaving the police to set up checkpoints inside the city.
The MP called for re-evaluating the security measures in Al-Arish and asking officials not to publish the people of the city in the fight against militancy.
This is not the first time that the volatile city has witnessed a civilian protest in anger of the practices and performance of Egyptian security forces.
Last January, after the announcement of the killing of 10 men in a security operation in Al-Arish, hundreds from the city went on mass protests to demonstrate their outrage due to the killings, arguing that victims were previously arrested and then declared dead.
The families held a meeting after the incident, denied that those killed were militants, and noted that they were detained by police forces. Moreover, they considered the interior minister as a “foe” and called on North Sinai MPs to quickly resign from their positions.
In the Sinai Peninsula, the most active militant group is the Sinai Province, previously called Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis. The Egyptian security apparatus has been engaged in a deadly confrontation with the militant group since 2011, but insurgency increased in 2013 after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi.
Although the sophistication of the militant group has dwindled, as there are currently few systematic attacks on checkpoints and military headquarters, their continuity to hold low-profile guerilla-warfare tactics has been increasing and causing casualties.
Last week, the Egyptian cabinet declared a curfew in several parts of North Sinai, including western Al-Arish. The curfew was set to take place from 7.00pm to 9.00am of the following day.
Throughout the weekend, two police personnel were killed in two separate improvised explosive device (IED) explosions in North Sinai.
The weekend also witnessed the publishing of a controversial video by Muslim Brotherhood TV channel Mekamleen, showing alleged army soldiers shooting a number of civilians. The video shows footage of arrested people being shot, who were later announced as “militants” killed in action by the armed forces.
Daily News Egypt cannot confirm the authenticity of the video. However, heated debates have been going on to either prove whether the video is fake or authentic.
Tawfiq told Daily News Egypt that he saw the video and that he thinks that “people of Sinai are victims of both terrorism and the war on terrorism.”
The video was used by Brotherhood-affiliated outlets and pro-activists to criticise the armed forces and the Egyptian state.
No official entity, such as the Egyptian army, the presidency, or the foreign ministry, commented on the video or on the reactions to it.
On the other side, several pro-state media outlets published articles claiming that the video is fabricated and is part “of the Brotherhood’s conspiracy to distort the relationship between the army and the Egyptian people.” Several articles said that the people in the video were speaking in a non-Egyptian dialect, adding that some of the alleged soldiers had a beard and wore casual clothes, which is something the Egyptian army does not allow.
Journalist and MP Mostafa Bakry said Friday night that the video is fabricated and “it aimed to tell the people the army is performing extrajudicial killings.” He added that the video “documents all the methods by the Brotherhood to fabricate facts like they did in Rabaa [sit in].” He explained that the video shows alleged soldiers, some who were wearing summer clothes and some who were wearing winter clothes. Bakry asserted that the video is another failed attempt by what he called “enemies of the state”.
The video caught the attention of primary international human rights institutions Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The two groups validated the video and extracted information and claims from the footage.
Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the incident and the video “confirm that Egypt’s counterterrorism campaign in Sinai is out of control.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International said that its experts analysed the video and have compared it with previously published videos and pictures circulated by the military spokesperson. “These killings amount to extrajudicial executions, crimes which Egypt has an obligation under international law to investigate, prosecute, and punish,” Amnesty International’s campaigns director for North Africa, Najia Bounaim said.
In a press conference on Friday, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the secretary-general, told reporters that “we have no way to verify the veracity of the report. As a matter of principle, and something we stated often and often again, is that the fight against terrorism should not be at the expense of human rights.”