x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Egypt hostages freed unharmed

Eleven European tourists and their Egyptian guides kidnapped by armed bandits in the desert 10 days ago are freed.

A European tourist, who was taken hostage by bandits in the Egyptian desert 10 days ago and rescued today by the Egyptian army, waves a bunch of flowers as he is escorted across the tarmac of the Army's east Cairo base.
A European tourist, who was taken hostage by bandits in the Egyptian desert 10 days ago and rescued today by the Egyptian army, waves a bunch of flowers as he is escorted across the tarmac of the Army's east Cairo base.

Eleven European tourists and their Egyptian guides who were kidnapped by armed bandits in the desert 10 days ago have been freed unharmed, officials said today. "The hostages have been freed and are in good health. They are being brought to Cairo airport," Egyptian state television quoted an official as saying. The hostages ? five Germans, five Italians, a Romanian and eight Egyptian drivers and tour guides ? were snatched while on a safari in a lawless area of Egypt's south western desert on Sept 19 2008.

The kidnappers ? whose identities remain unknown ? had demanded a ransom but it was not known if any money was paid to secure the release of the 19. Security officials said they were being flown back to Al-Maza military airport, which is next to Cairo's international airport, aboard a military aircraft. "They'll be here within two hours," a tourism ministry spokeswoman Omayma el-Huseini said.

The Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini confirmed the release, telling Sky Italia "our compatriots are free, and they are with Egyptian forces." Their release came after an Egyptian security official said kidnappers had agreed to let their captives go in return for a ransom, in a deal hammered out before Sudanese troops killed six hostage-takers in a shoot-out yesterday. "The problem was solved. They had agreed to the ransom. It was merely a matter of receiving the hostages, but then this surprise happened," the official said, referring to the shooting.

Sudanese forces killed six of the bandits and arrested two in a shoot-out after spotting them in the Sudan-Egypt-Libya border area. A Sudanese official said the bandits had moved the hostages to a hideout in Chad. The kidnappers had demanded that Germany take charge of payment of a ?6m (Dh31.6m) ransom to be handed over to the German wife of the tour organiser, one of those snatched. However there was no information about whether this had been paid.

After they were kidnapped, the group was first moved across the border to Sudan to the remote mountain region of Jebel Uweinat, a plateau that straddles the borders of Egypt, Libya and Sudan, before the bandits took them into Chad, according to Sudanese officials.

Sudan says the kidnappers belong to a splinter Darfur rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army-Unity (SLA-Unity). An SLA-Unity spokesman denied his group's involvement, but warned that the hostages might be harmed if force were used against the bandits. Kidnappings of foreigners are extremely rare in Egypt, although in 2001 an armed Egyptian held four German tourists hostage for three days in Luxor, demanding that his estranged wife bring his two sons back from Germany. He freed the hostages unharmed.

Bomb attacks aimed at foreigners have been more common, with the most recent occurring between 2004 and 2006 in popular Red Sea resorts, killing dozens of people. * AFP