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Copts kidnapped in Egypt’s Sinai

Two Coptic men have been kidnapped in two separate incidents in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula
Coptic Christians attend a Friday Mass at the Virgin Mary church on May 16, 2014 in Cairo (AFP)

Masked gunmen have reportedly kidnapped two Coptic Christian men in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

According to the Associated Press, the kidnappings took place in two separate incidents over the past three days.

During the first incident, which took place on Saturday, surgeon Wadei Ramses was shot and wounded before being abducted in the city of Al-Arish. According to officials a ransom demand for 10 million Egyptian pounds ($1.4 million) was later made.

In the second incident, which took place during the day on Monday, Christian businessman Gamal Shenouda was abducted near his home, also in Al-Arish. No ransom has yet been made but the police and security services are said to be investigating.

It is unknown whether the men’s religion had anything to do with their abduction or whether it was just an opportunistic crime but Coptic groups have reported dozens of abductions since former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.

An estimated 10,000 Copts live in the Sinai region with Christians making up approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population as a whole.

A church official based in el-Arish told AFP that 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.”

Flashpoint Sinai

The Sinai region has been a volatile flashpoint for trouble between militant Islamist groups and the Egyptian authorities in recent months.

There has been a crackdown on groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, who are branded as terrorists in Egypt, and who often reportedly launch their attacks from bases in Sinai. Egyptian security forces have carried out numerous raids and security/military operations in the area trying to neutralise their threat.

In the most recent clashes eight suspected extremists were killed on Monday during a violent confrontation with the Egyptian military in Sheikh Zuweid city, Northern Sinai.

This all takes place as the new Egyptian cabinet is sworn in on Tuesday led by Ibrahim Mahlab. Most positions from the previous military-installed government have been retained but the foreign minister has been replaced and an investment minister appointed.

The ministers took the oath of office before newly installed President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in an early morning ceremony broadcast live on state television.