* Gunmen want militants freed in exchange for hostages
* North Sinai insecurity escalated after Arab Spring (Recasts with identity, motive of kidnappers)
Islamist gunmen abducted seven members of the Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula on Thursday and want jailed militants released in exchange for the men, security sources said.
Hardline Islamist groups based in North Sinai have exploited the collapse of state authority after the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak to launch attacks across the border into Israel and on Egyptian targets.
The gunmen kidnapped the men as they travelled between the towns of el-Arish and Rafah in the early hours of the morning.
A policeman was later released as a sign of goodwill, the sources said. The remaining six hostages are from both the army and the police force.
The gunmen are demanding the release of members of Islamist group Al-Tawhid wal Jihad who were convicted of carrying out attacks in North Sinai in 2011 that killed six members of the security forces and a civilian, a security official said.
Last September, a court sentenced 14 members of the group to death and another four to life imprisonment.
President Mohamed Mursi held an urgent meeting with the defence minister and the interior minister to discuss the abduction, the state news agency reported.
Last August, 16 Egyptian border guards were killed in an attack blamed on militant Islamists who hijacked an armoured vehicle that they smashed through the border into Israel. They were killed by Israeli forces.