EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — Armed Bedouin tribesmen briefly abducted a Hungarian member of the multinational observer force in Sinai, releasing him around two hours later after tribal elders intervened, a security official said Thursday.
An official with the force confirmed the kidnapping of the Hungarian who was traveling Thursday in a bus from el-Arish in north Sinai to Cairo, a regular trip members of the force make to the capital.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The security official said the elders secured the release of the force member by mediating between the tribesman and the government. The kidnappers were demanding the release of a member of their tribe arrested earlier on drug-related charges. The official said authorities promised they would review the case of the arrested tribesman, but that they have not released him.
It is rare that members of the 12-nation force stationed in the Sinai are abducted by local tribesmen, although they have attacked the force's buses and headquarters. The largest contingent in the Sinai force is American.
Bedouin tribesmen often briefly hold tourists to pressure the government in negotiations over the release of imprisoned relatives.
The clans in Sinai have long complained of discrimination by the state, and mass arrests in the area after bombings in 2004 and 2005 only further poisoned relations between residents and authorities. Investigations into the bombings have never given a clear explanation of who was behind the attacks.
Following the uprising that forced longtime autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak out of office in 2011, security in the area deteriorated. Police have yet to fully re-assert themselves as armed groups and weapons smugglers operate more freely than in the past.
Egypt's new government has struggled to impose order in the Sinai, whose northern region borders Hamas-ruled Gaza. The peninsula's southern tip has traditionally been a tourist destination known for golden beaches and top-notch diving spots.
Also on Thursday, another security official said authorities have seized a large cache of explosives south of el-Arish. The underground cache included three sacks of explosives materials, an anti-aircraft rocket launcher, and anti-tank mines, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Over the past two years, Egypt's Interior Ministry has confiscated hundreds of weapons smuggled from Libya.