Tour Group Hostages Taken from Sudan to Libya
A group of 11 European tourists and their eight Egyptian guides taken hostage on Monday were taken by their kidnappers in three four-wheel drive vehicles from northwest Sudan’s Oweinat Mountain region 10 miles over the border into Libyan territory on Thursday. They are still on the move, according to reports compiled by the Christian Science Monitor.
The Libyan government did not comment right away on the developments in the case, however, and Egypt has informed the Associated Press that it had no data on the hostages being taken over the Libyan border.
The apparent abduction took place on Monday near Egypt’s Gilf al-Kebir plateau, located near the country’s borders with Sudan and Libya. The plateau is famous for its cave drawings. According to reports, the hostages include five Italians, one Romanian and five Germans on a packaged tour, some of whom are in their 70s, and eight Egyptians who were on the tour group staff.
They were later taken into Sudan, where government officials began to track the group. Ali Youssef, a spokesperson for the Sudanese foreign ministry, believes that the kidnappers are Sudanese.
Egypt’s state news agency MENA told the BBC that the owner of the company leading the tour called his wife via satellite phone to tell her that the group had been abducted by five masked men who spoke English “with an African accent.”
Egyptian Minister of Tourism Zoheir Garrana was quoted by Reuters as saying, “This is a gang act [by] masked men.” Garrana said that the kidnappers were “most likely” Sudanese nationals; however Egyptian security sources have noted that they could be Egyptian or Chadian citizens. Security sources also confirmed that the rebels were asking for 6 million euros, roughly $8.8 million, in ransom.
Earlier this week, there had been conflicting reports from Egyptian state authorities on developments in the case.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters at the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday that the 11 kidnapped tourists were released by their captors in safe condition. But a day later, Hossam Zaki, a spokesperson for the Egyptian foreign ministry, was quoted as saying by Egyptian state news service MENA, “Information from Egypt indicates that the situation is unchanged.”
The Christian Science Monitor cites reports from the Middle East Times that Egyptian journalists reported government restrictions on their coverage of the situation, perhaps out of fears that the crisis would be detrimental to the country’s tourism industry, a major source of foreign currency for the emerging-market economy.
Yassir Al-Zayat, the editor-in-chief of Egyptian newspaper Al-Badeel, was quoted as saying in the Christian Science Monitor, “I received a phone call at 1:00 p.m. from the Information Ministry’s press office notifying me of the decision prohibiting the publicity on the kidnapping case. … Two hours later, I received another phone call from the same office, telling me to disregard the ban decision … and treat it as if it was not issued at all.”
The group was last seen on Sunday near Aswan, Egypt, popular among tourists for its ruins dating from the pharaonic period. Sources from within the tourist industry in southern Egypt report that the group was traveling in three or four all-terrain vehicles; Dubai-based paper Gulf News reported that the entourage was scheduled to participate in a motor rally in the desert.
Initial reports said that the Egyptian government was negotiating with the rebels. However, Garrana disputed those claims in the Reuters story: “There are no negotiations with the kidnappers because there has been no official contact made by them asking the Egyptian government to intervene,” he said.