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Jan 15, 12:28 PM EST

Residents of Egypt's northern Sinai threaten protests


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AP Photo/Amr Nabil

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Residents of Egypt's northern Sinai threaten protests

CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptians in al-Arish, a city in the restive north of the Sinai Peninsula, are threatening civil disobedience to protest against what they claim to be the extrajudicial killing of six youths by security forces.

The Interior Ministry announced Friday that police killed 10 Islamic militants in a shootout in al-Arish. However, the residents said six of those killed had been in police custody since October.

Security officials denied the charge, saying the 10 had left their families to join militants, and were involved in a recent spate of attacks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

The residents met Saturday night and issued a statement demanding the release of youths detained without charge and the trial of anyone who took part in the alleged killings. A video of the meeting that circulated online shows around 100 people gathered in the home of a prominent al-Arish family.

The statement also called on Sinai lawmakers to quit parliament in protest as well as the formation of a "popular committee" that would be tasked with organizing future protests.

Northern Sinai is home to an insurgency led by an Islamic State affiliate. Residents of the rugged and mountainous region often complain of what they say are heavy-handed tactics used by security forces, including collective punishment following particularly deadly attacks against government forces.

The insurgency grew more deadly and widespread after the military's 2013 ouster of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, whose one year in office proved divisive.

A popular backlash against the security forces could significantly complicate their mission. The troops rely on local residents in gathering information about the militants, who have killed alleged informants as a warning to others.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led Morsi's ouster when he was his defense minister, said last week that 25,000 soldiers were deployed in northern Sinai to fight the militants, a previously undisclosed figure that underlined the magnitude of the challenge the military faces.

Over the weekend, Egypt tightened travel regulations for anyone visiting southern Sinai, home to a string of Red Sea resorts popular with divers and European sun lovers. Under the new regulations, tourism workers traveling overland to the region must show at checkpoints valid ID cards, a copy of their police record and proof of their employment. Visitors must show a hotel booking or an apartment lease.

The new measures appeared designed to reassure Russia and Britain, and to persuade them to resume flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the region's primary resort, after a 15-month hiatus. Russia suspended all air links with Egypt after one of its airliners crashed shortly after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh in October 2015. All 226 people on board were killed in what Moscow said was a terror attack. The IS group claimed responsibility. Britain has since suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, but not to the rest of Egypt.

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