CAIRO (AFP) – Security forces in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have arrested at least 20 Islamists suspected of extremist ideology, as Israel warned citizens of a possible kidnap plot, a security official said on Friday.
“Between 20 and 25 Islamists were arrested this week in towns across the Sinai,” the official said, adding: “They are believed to adhere to extremist ideology.”
The official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the detainees were being questioned, while witnesses said the authorities seized computers and books during the arrests.
The statement came a day after Israel’s National Security Council warned its nationals visiting the Sinai to leave at once as it believed they could be targets of an Islamist militant kidnap plot.
Citing what it called “updated and credible” information, the council said members of the Army of Islam, a group that espouses an Al-Qaeda-like ideology, were in Sinai and planning to snatch Israeli tourists.
The statement said the Israeli army’s killing in Gaza on November 3 of Mohammed Jamil al-Nemnem, 27, a senior Army of Islam commander, was linked to the intended Sinai attack.
But the Israeli authorities were yet to inform their Egyptian counterparts of any specific threat, according to another Egyptian security official.
In response to the warning, South Sinai Governor Abdel Fadhil Shusha said the situation on the peninsula was “calm and safe.”
“Israel has become accustomed since the bombings in Taba and Nuweiba in 2004 to make this kind of warning, which always coincides with holidays and is intended against Egyptian tourism in the Sinai and to make the Sinai appear unstable,” he told AFP.
The tourism industry of Egypt, which is preparing to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha on Tuesday, was dealt a blow when its Red Sea resorts of Taba and Nuweiba were targeted in a string of bombings that killed more than 30 people in 2004.
The Sinai, which is cheap and close to home, is a popular destination for visitors from neighbouring Israel.