A Coptic man later identified as a “police forensic expert” was kidnapped on Thursday in North Sinai, leading to clashes between police and armed militants in which one militant was killed and three policemen were injured.
The kidnapping took place after seven armed men set up a roadblock on the Arish-Rafah International Road, west of Arish, at around 8 am on Thursday, stopping cars to examine drivers’ and passengers’ IDs, eyewitnesses told Mada Masr.
At the makeshift checkpoint, militants forcibly removed a Coptic Christian man — who was identified by the Associated Press on Saturday as 45-year-old police forensics expert Adib Nakhla — from a rental car, witnesses told Mada Masr. Afterward, a police unit arrived and opened fire on the assailants, who fled with Nakhla in a stolen pick-up truck belonging to Egyptian authorities.
The assailants were armed with automatic weapons and the incident was filmed by one militant, according to witnesses.
A security source confirmed to Mada Masr that police personnel clashed with an armed group that had set up a roadblock, during which one gunman was killed and one officer and two police conscripts were injured on Thursday.
Nakhla’s whereabouts remain unknown, the security source clarified.
None of the militant groups active in the Sinai Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the incident.
Meanwhile, sources from the North Sinai city of Rafah reported that gunmen stormed the Rafah Central Hospital on Wednesday morning, firing indiscriminately and setting fire to two ambulances. The sources stated that the attack did not result in any casualties among hospital staff.
Local news outlets, however, reported on Wednesday that a fire had broken out in the hospital due to poor weather conditions.
Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate, the Province of Sinai, claimed responsibility for the attack on the hospital through its media arm, the Amaq News Agency, on Thursday. It also took credit for an explosion targeting an armored police vehicle nearby.
On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry also announced that police had wiped out a terrorist cell in Arish, killing five militants. The ministry said that the cell had been planning a series of attacks against “vital facilities and important figures in an isolated part of the city.”
Last week’s events came after Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuly announced the extension of a curfew in North Sinai between the city of Arish and Egypt’s eastern border with the Gaza Strip, as well as in parts of central Sinai. The curfew has been in effect since October 25, 2014, following an attack on the Karm al-Qawadis military base, south of the city of Sheikh Zuwayed, which killed 28 military personnel.
Thursday’s kidnapping is being considered by authorities to be a sectarian attack, the first of its kind since January 2018, when 27-year-old Coptic resident Bassem Herz was killed by three armed militants on his way home from work in Arish after being asked about his religion.
Coptic families living in Arish were forced to flee from the city in early 2018 after being targeted in several militant attacks. Many have returned over the past six months, however, after security forces succeeded in controlling parts of Arish and reducing militant activity in its residential areas as part of Operation Sinai 2018, although clashes do occur between security forces and militants to the south and west of the city.