EL ARISH // An Israeli and a Norwegian tourist who were abducted last week by Bedouin gunmen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula were released earlier today, security officials said.
The two - an Israeli man and a Norwegian woman - were set free and were taken to police headquarters in the city of Al Arish near the border with Israel-Gaza, the officials said.
The tourists were seized last Friday along a main road in Sinai and were held in the desolate mountainous Gabal-Maghara area in the peninsula. According to earlier reports, a taxi driver told police he was driving the two to the popular Red Sea diving site of Dahab when gunmen ambushed his vehicle and seized the tourists. The Israeli is believed to be of Arab origin, the reports said.
Following the abduction, authorities negotiated with the kidnappers who demanded the release of a cousin suspected of involvement in the killing of policemen. The kidnappers were given assurances the authorities would look into their demand, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson confirmed the release and said the Israeli tourist was on his way to Cairo. It wasn't immediately clear when he would return to Israel.
Egypt's private ONTV channel aired an interview with the Norwegian tourist after her release. She said that she was treated well.
"It has been difficult but I am so happy ... for going back to Norway and my family," she told the TV, and added: "We have been very well treated."
During the interview, the Israeli tourist shielded his face and did not speak to the TV reporter.
Tourists have been targeted in the past by Bedouins in Sinai seeking to pressure police to free detained relatives. They are typically not held long and are released unharmed.
Earlier this month, a British couple were kidnapped and held briefly by Bedouins who demanded release of their detained relative arrested and accused of smuggling weapons from Libya to Egypt.
Sinai's local Bedouin population is largely resentful of the central government in Cairo because of years of discrimination, being marginalised and heavy-handed security sweeps under Egypt's former autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak. Many live on smuggling of weapons, drugs and human trafficking. Egypt's northern Sinai region and border areas with Israel and Gaza have plunged into lawlessness and are also believed to be strongholds of Islamic extremists.