US tourists seized in Egypt's Sinai peninsula freed

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Two US women tourists and an Egyptian guide kidnapped in Egypt's Sinai peninsula have been released.

They had been travelling in a bus from St Catherine's monastery to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh earlier on Friday when it was stopped by gunmen.

Officials said the kidnappers were Bedouin tribesmen who had demanded the release of recently arrested relatives.

Bedouins kidnapped 25 Chinese workers in northern Sinai earlier this week, but released them unharmed after a day.

They were demanding the release of fellow tribesman who were jailed after the 2004 bomb attack at the resort of Taba that killed 31 people.

Confrontations

The Americans were travelling through the Wadi al-Sual area, about 40km (25 miles) from St Catherine's, when a vehicle carrying masked men armed with machine-guns forced the bus to stop, officials said.

The gunmen took the tourists' money and valuables before grabbing the two women and their guide, forcing them into a vehicle and fleeing into the mountains, the officials added.

St Catherine's monastery (file) St Catherine's monastery on Mount Sinai is a popular tourist destination

The three other tourists who had been in the bus were left behind. Their nationalities were not immediately known.

Several hours later, security sources told reporters that the American women and their guide had been released into army custody.

Maj Gen Mohammed Naguib, the head of security for southern Sinai, told the Associated Press that the kidnappers were Bedouins who had demanded the release of a number of fellow tribesmen arrested this week on drug-trafficking and robbery charges.

They had agreed to free the women after mediation efforts between officials and tribal leaders, Gen Naguib added.

Egyptian Tourism Minister Munir Fakhri Abdul Nour meanwhile said he had spoken to the Americans, and that they had assured him that they were in good health and had not been mistreated.

Bedouin tribesmen in Sinai have been involved in a series of confrontations with security forces in recent months.

A gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel has also repeatedly been sabotaged, though Sinai's tourist resorts have remained largely secure.

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