Egypt renewed efforts on Tuesday to release 19 people including European tourists abducted in the remote desert and taken to Sudan, after Cairo went back on an official statement that they had been freed. "Egyptian efforts are ongoing to release the abducted tourists," MENA news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying after Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in New York that all 19 had been freed "safe and sound."
While Egypt is not negotiating directly with the hostage takers, Egypt's Tourism Minister Zuhair Garana has said they want millions of dollars in ransom.
According to AFP, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said that Abul Gheit's comments "were inexact." "Information from Egypt indicates that the situation is unchanged," MENA quoted him as saying about the fate of the European tourists and their Egyptian guides, drivers and a guard, snatched at gunpoint in the desert on Friday.
Five Italians and five Germans were among those kidnapped, but the Italian and German embassies in Cairo both said they were trying to confirm reports of the release. A Romanian is also being held.
According to Abul Gheit, the captives were released near the Libyan-Sudanese-Egyptian border, after masked gunmen attacked their group of four off-road vehicles in one of the most isolated parts of the Sahara desert on Friday. The tourism ministry in Egypt stressed that "this is an act of banditry not of terrorism."
"Four masked gunmen attacked four vehicles affiliated to a tourist company. They kidnapped the tourists and led them to the Sudanese lands," MENA quoted the ministry as saying.