Province of Sinai claims responsibility for kidnapping of Coptic man near Arish

Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate, the Province of Sinai group, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Coptic man in North Sinai on January 17. The militant group made the claim on Friday in issue 166 of its Nabaa newsletter.

Early on January 17 seven men armed with automatic weapons set up a roadblock on the Arish-Rafah International Road, west of Arish, stopping cars to examine occupants’ IDs, eyewitnesses told Mada Masr at the time. One assailant filmed the incident.

They forcibly removed a Coptic Christian man, later identified as 45-year-old police forensics expert Adib Nakhla, from a rental car. A police unit arrived and opened fire on the assailants, who fled with Nakhla in a stolen pick-up truck belonging to authorities. One was killed and three policemen were injured during the exchange of fire.

A security source told Mada Masr on Friday that Nakhla had been among the fingerprint team in the North Sinai Security Directorate, and was transferred to Ismailia after several attacks on Copts in Arish early last year. The source added that Nakhla, whose whereabouts still unknown, was visiting his family and friends in North Sinai.

The 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 armed militants on his way home from work in Arish after being asked about his religion.

Coptic families in Arish were forced to flee the city early last year 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 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.

On Friday evening loud explosions could be heard southern parts of Arish city, followed by sounds of gunfire from police and army checkpoints at city borders. Residents of the southern neighborhoods of Masaeed, Ebni Beitak, Zohour and Samran became fearful, local sources said. Internet, mobile and landline services then cut for almost two hours throughout the city. Quiet largely returned by midnight.

Yesterday was the first time that communication services have been cut in North Sinai governorate in several months. Province of Sinai have stopped operating inside the cities of Arish and Sheikh Zouaied in recent months as military forces brought city entrances back under control.

AD