Two American women and their Egyptian tour guide, who were captured by armed Bedouins in the Sinai peninsula on Friday, were released unharmed after several hours, security officials said.
The three arrived back at their hotel in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where they were met by South Sinai’s governor and security chief, officials said.
Tourism Minister Munir Fakhry Abdelnur said he had spoken to the three who said they were “in good health” and that they “had not been mistreated”.
Abdelnur told the official MENA news agency that he has invited the two tourists to dinner on Saturday to apologise over what happened.
Masked gunmen had held up the tourists’ bus at Wadi al-Soal in southern Sinai as it left the historic monastery of St. Catherine en route to Sharm el-Sheikh.
They stole watches, mobile telephones and money before snatching the three and taking off.
Authorities had spent several hours negotiating with kidnappers Salem Atwa and Salem Abu Khoshb, who were demanding the release of Khoshb’s two sons, in jail on drugs charges, a security official said.
State television said a military aircraft was deployed over South Sinai, as a search operation quickly got underway after the kidnapping.
The abductions came just days after Bedouins in North Sinai briefly seized 25 Chinese workers employed by a military-owned cement factory, to demand the release of Islamist relatives detained over bombings in the peninsula’s Red Sea resorts between 2004 and 2006.
Since the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak last February, Egypt has seen sporadic and sometimes deadly unrest coupled with a sharp rise in crime.
The security situation is worst in Sinai, where the resident Bedouin community is heavily armed.
The sparsely populated region has some of Egypt’s most lucrative tourist spots, as well as being home to its mostly poor and disaffected Bedouin population.
Tucked between the mountains of the Sinai desert and waters of the Red Sea, Sharm el-Sheikh’s glitzy strip of golden beaches, hotels and casinos, diving resorts and golf courses is a major player in Egypt’s key tourism industry.
But the sector has suffered heavily since the popular revolt that toppled Mubarak.
The resort was a favourite bolt hole for Mubarak, who was known for showing off development in the area to foreign guests he invited there for political meetings and conferences.
The brief abductions came as clashes gripped the country amid mounting anger over football-related violence that left 74 people dead on Wednesday.
Protesters have taken to the streets in a string of major cities to demand the ouster of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over from Mubarak, accusing the ruling generals of mismanagement of the promised transition to democracy.