Armed Egyptian Bedouins in Sinai abducted 25 policemen and briefly held them captive on Tuesday, a day after the killing by police of a Bedouin man provoked street protests, security sources said.
The protests broke out overnight after police fired on a Bedouin vehicle that ignored orders to stop, killing one man and wounding another. Seven people were hurt in the unrest, including an officer.
Security sources said that later, armed Bedouins stopped a vehicle full of police reinforcements heading to a police post near the Israeli border on Tuesday.
"The Bedouin freed them in a mountainous area near the Israeli border," an official said of the policemen, held for around two hours after being seized by three pick-ups of armed Bedouin as they were heading for the Israeli border.
Relations between the police and Bedouin have been tense for a long time and deteriorated further in 2004 when police detained thousands on suspicion of possible links to a group that had bombed Sinai tourist resorts.
Egypt has blamed a series of attacks on Sinai tourist targets between 2004 and 2006 on a group of Bedouin with militant Islamist views. Bedouins resent the mistrust and complain of police harassment.
Bedouin in the Sinai frequently complain of marginalization and police abuse although some of the tribesmen are also involved in trafficking people, drugs and goods across the border into Israel or the Gaza Strip.
In the overnight protests, hundreds of Bedouin took to the streets in anger at Monday's killing. Some fired into the air, burned tires and barricaded a road, Bedouin sources said.
Egyptian state news agency MENA said the Bedouin man killed by police on Monday as a drug dealer although Bedouin sources denied that.
Northern Sinai is home to about 200,000 formerly nomadic Bedouin. It is one of Egypt's poorest areas with high unemployment levels.
The Egyptian government has regularly promised to pump money into the impoverished north Sinai and there have been several attempts in recent months at a rapprochement between authorities and the Bedouin.