REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Two American tourists and their guide who were kidnapped by armed men earlier Friday in the Sinai Peninsula have been released, according to media reports.
The three were abducted when the Bedouin assailants stopped their minivan near Mt. Sinai. Egyptian authorities started negotiations with the kidnappers, who had driven the unidentified women and their guide into the mountains.
South Sinai Police Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Naguib had sent a car to pick up the women, the Associated Press reported.
The gunmen were demanding the release of fellow tribesmen arrested this week on drug-trafficking and robbery charges but agreed to free the women after mediation efforts between officials and tribal leaders, Naguib told the news service.
Kidnapping has increased recently in the Sinai, large swathes of which are controlled by Bedouin tribes and criminal networks. The kidnapping of the Americans follows the abduction earlier this week of 25 Chinese workers. They were quickly released.
Bedouin kidnappers usually demand a ransom or the release of clansmen arrested for robbery, terrorism and gun-smuggling. Bedouins have long complained of neglect and discrimination by the Egyptian government, which they say has under-funded social and economic programs in the Sinai.
The kidnapping came as Egypt’s tourism industry is reeling from months of protests and political unrest. Tourism is down by 30% and is not expected to rise amid increasing lawlessness that over the last week has included a string of bank robberies and a soccer riot that killed 74 people Wednesday in Port Said.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman