CAIRO -- Two U.S citizens who were abducted by Bedouin gunmen and taken to a mountain stronghold in Egypt's Sinai peninsula were released Thursday, state TV announced.
U.S Embassy officials in Cairo confirmed that the tourists, both 31, were seized by tribesmen late Wednesday while traveling from the town of Dahab to Ras Ahitan, another resort on the Red Sea. The embassy said there were negotiations between Egyptian security officials and the gunmen to free the pair, whose names were not released.
The chief of the South Sinai security, Gen. Mahmoud Hefnawi, said Bedouin kidnappers were holding the tourists to pressure Egyptian authorities to release a local drug dealer who was arrested Wednesday. Hefnawi confirmed that talks with the gunmen began early Thursday and the Americans were freed later in the day.
It was not clear if the drug dealer was also released. Nomads in Sinai suffered from years of marginalization under the rule of deposed President Hosni Mubarak. They have often been accused of attacking tourist resorts and other venues. The tribesmen, who resist police and army control of Sinai, have often kidnapped tourists or policemen to negotiate the release of fellow clansmen.
Two American females were similarly held hostage for a short period in February before police authorities negotiated their release. Sinai has become increasingly lawless since Mubarak was deposed last year. The region has attracted Islamist extremists and gun smugglers. Militants have repeatedly blown up natural gas pipelines from Sinai to Israel.
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: The Red Sea resort of Dahab. Credit: Khaled Desouki / AFP/Getty Images