- Eleven European tourists and their Egyptian guides, who were kidnapped 10 days ago by gunmen in remote desert in Southern Egypt, have been freed, Egyptian officials said.
The breakthrough in the hunt for tourists came yesterday when Sudanese forces in north-western Sudan fought a gun battle against a group of kidnappers who had been sent out to get fuel and food, Egyptian security official said.
The freed hostages arrived in Cairo aboard an Egyptian military plane. They descended the aircraft smiling, some holding bouquets of flowers, to be greeted by Egyptian military officers and government officials along with foreign diplomats.
The five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian were rescued in an overnight operation by Egyptian and Sudanese forces near Sudan-Chad border, an Egyptian security official said.
Egyptian defence minister, Hussein Tantawi, said half of kidnappers were killed in the rescue operation, according to state news agency Mena. The report did not give a precise number or details on the rescue.
Egyptian officials also confirmed without giving much details that they were freed in a mission near Sudan's border with Chad, and that half of the kidnappers were killed. However, no ransom was paid, officials emphasised.
The freed hostages were greeted by Egyptian military and government officials on arrival in Cairo as well as foreign diplomats, and were then taken for medical checks.
The group was seized in an ambush at around dawn on Monday, Egyptian security sources said. Some 150 Egyptian Special Forces were then sent to Sudan, officials said.
German officials had been negotiating via satellite phone with the kidnappers, who were demanding a ransom of US$8.8m, but Egyptian officials said no money exchanged hands.
The vast majority of Egypt's 9 million tourists each year visit pharaonic sites along the Nile or Red Sea beach resorts, far from Western Desert and Gilf al-Kebir.
The Gilf, a desert plateau 500 miles south-west of Cairo, draws adventure tourists with its sand dunes and desert cliffs, as well as a trove of prehistoric cave art. Around 2,000 tourists visited the area in the past year, up from only a handful less than a decade ago.
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