By Ashraf Sweilam / AP
AL-ARISH: Armed tribesmen freed two Brazilian women and an Egyptian police officer who was with them late Sunday, hours after abducting them in the Sinai desert, a security official said.
The head of security in Egypt’s south Sinai, Mahmoud Hefnawi, said the two tourists and the police officer were released unharmed.
Earlier Sunday, six armed men with covered faces approached the tour bus carrying the Brazilian women and took the two and the police officer off the bus. The remaining passengers were allowed to go.
The tourists were near the sixth century St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, one of Egypt’s most popular tourist sites.
A spokesman for the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said the bus was carrying about 45 Brazilian tourists when it was stopped by the group of armed Bedouins. The official was not allowed to give his name in line with government policy.
Hefnawi said the kidnappers agreed to release the three after tribal elders spoke to them. He said the three were held in a mountainous area 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Mt. Sinai and were served tea and dried fruit while in captivity.
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said negotiations to free the women were handled by the Egyptian Interior Ministry, closely followed by the Brazilian Embassy in Cairo.
Tribesmen in the area have abducted tourists in recent weeks to pressure Egyptian authorities to release their own detained relatives.
An Egyptian official said the abductors were identified as Bedouins from the area who have a relative detained on possession of drugs and illegal weapons. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with police rules.
Sunday’s abduction was the latest in a series of kidnappings in Sinai, which has seen a surge in lawlessness over the last year.
Last month, three South Korean women and two American women were kidnapped near the monastery in separate incidents. They were released unharmed.
Hefnawi said the men who kidnapped the Brazilian tourists were apparently the same ones who abducted the Americans. –Associated Press writer Juliana Barbassa in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.