Abducted Israeli, Norwegian set free in Egypt

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Associated Press

Posted on March 26, 2013 at 1:33 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 26 at 3:06 AM

EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — An Israeli and a Norwegian tourist abducted last week by Bedouin gunmen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula were released early on Tuesday, security officials said.

The tourists were seized last Friday along a main road in Sinai and were held in the peninsula's desolate mountainous Gabal-Maghara area. According to earlier reports, a taxi driver told police he was driving the two to the popular Red Sea diving site of Dahab when gunmen ambushed his vehicle and seized them.

After the two — an Israeli man and a Norwegian woman — were set free, they were taken to police headquarters in the city of el-Arish near the border with Israel and Gaza, the officials said.

The woman was identified by Norwegian media and the NTB news agency as Ingvild Selvik Ask, 31. Israeli media identified the man as Amir Hassan from the northern Arab-Israeli city Nazareth.

Following the abduction, authorities negotiated with the kidnappers who demanded the release of a cousin suspected of involvement in the killing of policemen. The kidnappers were given assurances that authorities would look into their demand, said the Egyptian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson confirmed the release and said the Israeli tourist was on his way to Cairo. It wasn't immediately clear when he would return to Israel.

In Norway, Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide thanked the Egyptians, saying he was "happy and relieved" at the Norwegian tourist's release. "The cooperation with Egyptian authorities has been excellent and we owe them gratitude for the happy ending to this matter," he said.

Egypt's private ONTV channel aired an interview with the Norwegian tourist after her release. She said that she was treated well.

"It has been difficult but I am so happy ... for going back to Norway and my family," she told the TV, and added: "We have been very well treated."

During the interview, the Israeli tourist shielded his face and did not speak.

Tourists have been targeted in the past by Bedouins in Sinai seeking to pressure police to free detained relatives. They are typically not held long and are released unharmed.

Earlier this month, a British couple were kidnapped and held briefly by Bedouins who demanded release of their detained relative arrested and accused of smuggling weapons from Libya to Egypt.

Sinai's local Bedouin population is largely resentful of the central government in Cairo because of years of discrimination, marginalization and heavy-handed security sweeps under Egypt's former autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak. Many live on smuggling of weapons, drugs and human trafficking. Egypt's northern Sinai region and border areas with Israel and Gaza have plunged into lawlessness and are also believed to be strongholds of Islamic extremists.

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