2 Christians kidnapped Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

CAIRO (AP) — Masked armed men, suspected to be Islamic
militants, kidnapped two Coptic Christians in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in
two separate incidents, and clashes between Egyptian security forces
and Islamist supporters of deposed president in the capital left one
policeman dead on Monday, officials said.
The abductions come as
Egypt’s designated Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab is finalizing lineup of
new cabinet due to swear in, following the election of President
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former defense minister and military chief.
El-Sissi’s
ouster last year of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi — and the
subsequent crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood — garnered him strong
support among Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who make up about 10
percent of Egypt’s population.
Still, Christians have continued to
be targeted by Islamic militants either as retaliation for their
support to el-Sissi or for the sake of hefty ransoms. Coptic
organizations have reported dozens of abductions since Morsi’s July 3
ouster — most in the south, where large concentrations of Christians are
located near strongholds of Islamic groups.
In the northern Sinai
— where about 10,000 Copts live — the military has been waging an
offensive against Islamic militants who have escalated attacks and
suicide bombings against police and military since Morsi’s removal.
Security
and church officials said Monday that in the north Sinai city of
el-Arish masked gunmen snatched Wadie Ramses, a prominent surgeon who
runs the city’s first private-owned hospital around midnight Saturday
after they opened fire on his vehicle, wounding him in the leg. Hours
later, they demanded a ransom of 10 million Egyptian pounds ($1.4
million).
On Monday, a Christian merchant named Gamal Shenouda was
abducted near his house in el-Arish in daytime, but no ransom demand
had been made yet. Security officials said that authorities are
investigating, officials said.
A church official based in el-Arish
said that the abductions have caused a state of panic among Christians
in northern Sinai, with some considering leaving the area. Last year,
dozens of families abandoned their homes in the nearby Rafah town near
borders with Gaza Strip, after attacks by extremists on Christians
there.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the security concerns.
Meanwhile,
the Interior Ministry said security forces clashed with Muslim
Brotherhood supporters in Cairo’s May 15 suburb in fighting that killed a
policeman. The violence began when police set up a checkpoint to stop a
group of Brotherhood followers suspected of burning police cars and
other violence, the ministry said.
Egypt has waged a heavy
crackdown on Morsi’s supporters for the past 11 months, killing hundreds
and jailing thousands. Egyptian authorities branded the Brotherhood a
terrorist organization last year. The group denies it uses violence and
has kept up its protests against the post-Morsi government.
Authorities
stepped up their confiscation of the Brotherhood’s assets on Sunday,
when police seized a number of supermarket chains in the capital owned
by a deputy Brotherhood leader and a wealthy businessman who allegedly
supports the group.
Meanwhile, state TV reported that the swearing
of new cabinet in will take place on Tuesday and that it will not
include the Information Ministry, the government body that for decades
has overseen state media, keeping them to a close government line
supporting official policies and rallying support for the leadership.
The
move is in line with the newly adopted constitution, which calls for an
"independent institution" to regulate media and press.
After the
2011 ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, activists and free media
advocates called for abolishing the ministry and state media. The
transitional military council that took power after Mubarak’s removal
initially agreed to the move, but then reinstated the ministry.
Egypt’s
new parliament — which is to be elected within months— has a mandate to
pass legislation that will regulate the work of the new media body.