Kidnappers seize foreign tourists in Egypt

Kidnappers seize foreign tourists in Egypt

Masked kidnappers in Egypt have seized 19 hostages including German, Italian and Romanian tourists in a remote desert area near the Sudanese and Libyan borders, Egyptian officials said today.



The kidnapping was the first of foreign tourists in Egypt in living memory, although Islamic militants have hit the country”s tourist industry in recent decades through bomb and shooting attacks that have killed hundreds.


“This is a gang act (by) masked men,” Tourism Minister Zoheir Garrana told Reuters.


Security sources said the kidnappers were asking for 6 million euros ($8.8 million) to free the hostages, identified as five Italians, five Germans, one Romanian and eight Egyptians. They said there was no indication militant Islamists were involved.


Egypt”s army scoured the border area today for signs of the tourists, who were believed to have been seized on Friday by four masked men while on a desert safari in a remote area where the borders of Egypt, Sudan and Libya meet.


Tourism Minister Garrana said authorities learned of the kidnapping after a tour operator called his wife and told her he was being held hostage with the group. Egyptian state television said those held included an Egyptian border guard officer.


Garrana initially said negotiations were under way with the kidnappers, but later told Egyptian television that there were no such talks.


“There are no negotiations with the kidnappers because there has been no official contact made by them asking the Egyptian government to intervene,” Garrana said.


Garrana said the kidnappers were “most likely” Sudanese nationals, and state news agency MENA said the kidnappers were believed to have taken the hostages toward Sudanese territory. Security sources said they may have crossed the border.


One security source said the kidnappers may be citizens of nearby Chad, where both Sudanese and Chadian rebels operate. Another security source said the kidnappers could be Egyptian.


Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was following the situation with “great concern” and was in close contact with the foreign ministry on developments, his office said in a statement.


Attacks on tourists in Egypt”s Nile Valley have been rare in recent years, although a series of bombings targeted tourists in resorts in the Sinai Peninsula between 2004 and 2006. Egypt blamed the Sinai attacks on Bedouin with militant views.


Militant Islamists launched a series of attacks on tourists in the Nile Valley in the 1990s. But the Gama”a al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, halted attacks amid popular uproar after six of its members slaughtered dozens of foreign tourists at Queen Hatshepsut”s temple in the southern town of Luxor in 1997.


Al-Qa”ida leaders often condemn Egypt”s government as a corrupt US puppet and call for its overthrow. Deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in a message this month it was among governments “imposed by the Crusader-Zionist campaign (on Islam)”.