Last updated: 31 May, 2012

Bedouins abduct two US tourists in Sinai

Two American tourists kidnapped in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula by Bedouin tribesmen were released on Thursday after less than 24 hours in captivity, security and government officials told AFP.

The two men were in good health and police were escorting them to a safe place, where they were due to meet the South Sinai governor, the officials said.

They had been abducted near the Red Sea resort of Dahab late on Wednesday by Bedouin demanding the release of a tribesman jailed for drugs possession, the officials said.

The tourists were stopped at a makeshift roadblock and taken to an unknown location.

Washington confirmed that the men had been released unharmed.

“Egyptian officials have confirmed to the US Embassy in Cairo that the two US citizens kidnapped on the Sinai Peninsula on May 30 have been released unharmed,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

“The US Embassy has been in touch with the victims’ families and is providing appropriate consular assistance,” he added.

Several foreigners have been captured in Sinai in recent months by Bedouin demanding the release of tribesmen they feel have been unjustly detained. All have been freed within days.

Sinai, where most of Egypt’s luxury resorts are concentrated, had long been marginalised under the regime of Hosni Mubarak and the security situation there has been highly sensitive since his ouster last year.

Several Bedouin were severely punished between 2004 and 2008 for attacks against resorts on the Red Sea.

The situation in Sinai has been made more difficult by the limited presence of the army, was a result of the demilitarisation of the area under the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Tourism, one of the main sources of Egypt’s revenue and employment, was badly hit during and after the 18-day popular uprising that drove Mubarak from power in February 2011.

The sector is now recovering, with the number of tourists rising 32 percent in the first quarter of 2012, as compared to same period last year, according to officials.

But the first-quarter figures were a sharp 27.8 percent lower than those registered in the same period of 2010.

A pipeline running through northern Sinai which supplies gas to Israel and Jordan has also faced repeated sabotage over the past year.