U.S. women kidnapped in Egypt freed

In this Wednesday, Jan. 7, 1998 file photo, the shadow of Mount Sinai stretches across the valley at the foot of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai peninsula some 240 miles southeast of Cairo, Egypt.
File,AP Photo/Enric Marti

Last Updated 11:55 a.m. ET

CAIRO, Feb 3 - Two female American tourists and their Egyptian guide who were kidnapped by armed men in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula Friday have been released, a senior security official said.

Bedouin gunmen had intercepted a tourist minivan and snatched the two women, ages 60 and 65, and their Egyptian guide at gunpoint Friday near St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, South Sinai Police Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Naguib said.

The two women were among a party of five returning from the monastery to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Maj. Gen. Naguib said a deal was made following negotiations with Bedouin tribesmen.

2 Americans kidnapped in Egypt, officials say

Naguib, the head of security for southern Sinai, said the abductors were driving a sedan and a pickup truck and sped away into the mountains after seizing the two women.

The attackers were demanding the release of a number of fellow tribesmen arrested this week on drug trafficking and robbery charges. Tribal leaders were mediating efforts to free the tourists.

The bus was carrying three other people who were left behind, Naguib said. Their nationalities were not immediately known.

Katharina Gollner-Sweet, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, confirmed that two American women had been kidnapped but gave no further details, citing privacy concerns.

Also Friday, four masked gunmen stopped the vehicle of two Italians working for a local food factory in the nearby city of Suez, taking their car, more than 10,000 euros ($13,000) and their laptops, the director of the company Mohammed Antar said. The attackers let the Italians go.

The brazen daylight abduction along a busy highway was a new blow to Egypt's vital tourism industry, which has been heavily battered by the unrest following last year's uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.

Naguib said the attackers were Bedouin tribesmen who resist government control and have been blamed for several attacks in recent months as tensions intensify between them and authorities they accuse of discrimination and of ignoring their plight.

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Bedouins have long complained of discrimination and random arrests by the government, but tensions have intensified in recent months along with a general deterioration of security in the region including attacks on police stations, armed militias roving the streets and attacks on pipelines carrying gas to Jordan and Israel.

Earlier this week, armed Islamic militants also seized 25 Chinese factory workers after forcing them off a bus elsewhere in the peninsula, but they were released the next day. The kidnappers were also demanding the release of members of their group arrested years before on charges of terrorism.

In general, Egypt has faced a surge in crime since the uprising, which uprooted Mubarak's police state that kept tight control over the population of 85 million. Protesters accuse the military council that has assumed power and the police force of negligence.

Tourism Minister Mounir Abdel-Nour said last month that the number of tourists who came to Egypt in 2011 dropped to 9.8 million from 14.7 million the previous year. Revenues for the year clocked in at $8.8 billion compared to $12.5 billion in 2010.