U.S. tourists freed by Bedouin captors in Egypt

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 16, 2012 12:52 PM
U.S. tourists freed by Bedouin captors in Egypt

CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Massachusetts tourists abducted in Egypt's mountainous Sinai region were freed on Monday after three days in captivity, the local head of state security said.

Egyptian authorities had sought help from local tribal leaders to mediate with a Bedouin tribesman who kidnapped Michel Louis, a Boston pastor, mother-of-two Lissa Alphonse of Everett, Massachusetts, and their Egyptian guide on Friday to protest at the jailing of his uncle on drug charges.

The three were released "after successful negotiations with the mediation of sheikhs and senior tribal figures," northern Sinai's head of security, Ahmed Bakr, told Reuters.

The tourists were taken to state security headquarters in Al-Arish, the main town in northern Sinai, said Bakr, who did not give details of the agreement that led to their release.

Louis, 61, the pastor of a predominantly Haitian-American church, was travelling to Israel on an annual trip to retrace the steps of Jesus when his tour bus was ambushed by Bedouin tribesmen in central Sinai on Friday.

In Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, Louis' oldest son was exuberant upon learning of his father's release.

"At the moment, there is a lot of joy. I'm exuberant. I have no words to express it," Jean Louis told reporters outside the family home.

Massachusetts' two U.S. senators released statements expressing relief after spending the weekend in close contact with the State Department.

"What began as a sightseeing tour turned into an unimaginable nightmare for these Massachusetts families and thank God that nightmare is coming to an end," said John Kerry, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Republican Senator Scott Brown said, "Everyone's prayers have been answered...this is an emotional day."

A security source named the leader of the kidnapping as Germy Abu Masouh, a member of a prominent family within the Tarabin, the biggest Sinai Bedouin tribe in Egypt.

Abu Masouh tied the release of the hostages to that of his uncle, jailed in Alexandria after being found guilty of handling half a ton of drugs, the source said.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said before the Americans were freed that it was in "close contact with Egyptian authorities who are doing everything they can to bring about their safe release."

Egypt's isolated Sinai region fell deeper into lawlessness after an uprising overthrew Egypt's autocratic president in 2011.

Bedouin have attacked police stations, blocked access to towns and occasionally taken hostages to show their discontent with what they see as their poor treatment by Cairo and to press for the release of jailed kinsmen.

Two American women were kidnapped in Sinai in February but Egyptian authorities negotiated their release a few hours later. The incident was repeated in late May with two other U.S. tourists, who were also freed a day later.

(Reporting by Omar Fahmy; writing by Tom Pfeiffer; additional reporting by Ros Krasny in Boston; editing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman)