(photo credit: Reuters)
CAIRO - Two American women kidnapped by gunmen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Friday were released into army custody a few hours later, security sources said.
The gunmen in the isolated desert region had apparently been seeking a ransom, but the security sources declined to discuss the terms of the release.
However, a Beduin source said the authorities had agreed to a demand to free four fellow tribesmen from police custody in exchange for the two tourists.
Security in Sinai has deteriorated in the year since president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a popular uprising. South Sinai's Red Sea coast is a major Egyptian tourism hub, and the kidnapping is yet another blow to an industry that has been devastated by Egypt's political turmoil.
The two tourists had been among a party of five traveling from Saint Catherine's monastery in central Sinai to the resort of Sharm e-Sheikh when a vehicle carrying men armed with machine guns stopped their small bus, the security sources said.
The gunmen first took the tourists' money and valuables and then, as an apparent afterthought, grabbed the two women, forced them into their vehicle and fled into the mountains, the security officials said.
Two army and police search parties had gone into the area to try to track them down, the officials said.
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Beduin in the Sinai, who complain of neglect and discrimination by the authorities in Cairo, have attacked police stations and blocked access to towns to show their discontent and press for the release of fellow tribesmen from prison.
Last month, Beduin seized 50 German and British tourists whose coach accidentally crossed a roadblock they had set up as a protest against the governor of South Sinai.
Those tourists, who were also on a trip to the monastery, were released a few hours later.
Four armed men also attacked a hotel in an Egyptian Red Sea resort popular with Israeli holidaymakers last month before fleeing when police returned fire.
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