CAIRO, May 16 (UPI) -- Assailants abducted seven Egyptian security personnel at gunpoint in the northern Sinai Peninsula early Thursday, officials said.
Three policemen and four soldiers were traveling from el-Arish to Rafah in the northern Sinai when they were captured at gunpoint, Egyptian officials said.
Unidentified security officials told the Egyptian al-Masry al-Youm the assailants' identities are known to authorities.
The officials said the kidnappings occurred in an apparent effort to secure the release of prisoners affiliated with a Jihadist Salafist movement. The prisoners were arrested for their involvement in attacks on police stations in the summer of 2011, the newspaper said.
The officials said Egyptian authorities also asked Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip to enhance security around smuggling tunnels leading from Egypt to Gaza to prevent attempts to smuggle the soldiers and policemen into the Gaza Strip, the newspaper said.
Security in the Sinai Peninsula has deteriorated since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 despite efforts by the Egyptian army to root out terror groups in the area.