A group of 11 tourists and eight guides who were kidnapped at the Egyptian border and held hostage for 10 days were freed on Monday.
The five Italians, five Germans and one Romanian had been on a guided desert safari near Gilf al Kebir, where Egypt borders Sudan and Libya, when they were taken hostage by masked gunman and taken to the Sudanese side. All the released hostages were airlifted to Cairo and are reported to be in good health.
They were freed near Sudan’s border with Chad, a day after a standoff that left at least half the kidnappers dead.
Authorities from Sudan had been tracking the group through the remote border areas, and rescued the hostages early Monday morning. One of the freed hostages has reported that they were abandoned by their kidnappers just moments before security forces rescued them.
Although German officials had been negotiating with the kidnappers, who were demanding millions of dollars, no ransom was actually paid. Reports are conflicting, but it’s thought that the kidnappers may have been a rebel group from Darfur or Chad.
Kidnapping in Egypt of Western tourists is rarely an issue in the densely populated cities, but the remote desert areas can be an entirely different story. Though Gilf al Kebir is famed for its ancient cave paintings and sweeping landscape, it can be dangerous territory, with a sparse population and little police presence.
Recent reports have taken note of armed bandits, which may be linked to militia from Darfur or Chad that have traveled north from the Sudan-Chad border.
In January, a group of Europeans traveling in the Karkur Talh region at the Sudan border—also known for its prehistoric cave paintings—was robbed by several vehicles of bandits; in February, two tourists were robbed across the border in Sudan, and were held several days before being returned to Egypt.
Though the kidnapping was the first of its kind within the Egyptian borders, had things gone differently, it could have dealt and enormous blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, which raked in nearly $8 billion in 2007.
By Managing Editor Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com.
Read more of the latest news in our Travel News Analysis section.
Get more information about Travel Safety & Security.