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Dramatic rescue frees 19 hostages taken in Egypt

Their 10-day ordeal highlights risks to adventure travelers and their guides in remote Egypt due instability in neighboring countries.

By Lina AttalahContributor / September 30, 2008

Free: Tourists kidnapped in Egypt boarded an Egyptian Army helicopter near Cairo on Sept. 29. Major groups of combatants in Darfur denied any connection to the kidnapping.

Nasser Nuri/Reuters

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Cairo

As the exact details of their rescue were still emerging, 11 foreign tourists and eight Egyptians walked free Monday afternoon following a 10-day hostage drama that took them from remotest Egypt, into Sudan, and possibly to Libya.

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While the kidnappers' identities have yet to be released, at least six of them appear to have been killed in a raid that possibly involved Egyptian, Sudanese, and European forces. All of the abductees appeared to be in good health.

The rescue ends an ordeal that highlights new risks for adventure tourists in the western Egyptian desert due to the instability in neighboring Chad and Sudan.

"There does not seem to be a lot of information on organized crime in the region, although it is on the rise," says Abdul Moneim al-Said, head of the Egyptian al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

He says that the area is ripe for such kinds of crimes, given the ongoing conflicts, like the one in Darfur.

"It is a brand of violence that is similar to the on-going piracy in the horn of Africa and the Red Sea, and the increasing human trafficking. The desert in this area is wide. It's a wasteland that is convenient for such groups to organize themselves and the current failing states feed into those kinds of crimes," he says.

"This is the first time something like this has happened in the western desert in the past 25 years," says Hani Zaki, director of safari trips at EMCO Travel, one of the largest travel agencies in Egypt. "I do not take it as an indication of the desert not being safe. All trips organized here have security coverage represented in communication devices and security guides, and we usually use the Bedouin local communities for additional security."

Official sources so far have not given many specifics on the nature of the operation, but have acknowledged the use of force.

The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, told La Stampa newspaper that "there was no planned raid." But rather, he said, an unspecified "meeting at a checkpoint" where gunshots erupted, presumably accidentally.

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