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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.

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Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmad Aboul Gheit, confirmed that the kidnapped group was released through an operation and that half of the kidnappers were killed in a mission that took place before dawn on Monday. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the name of the Egyptian foreign minister.]

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Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga, who keeps ties with Italian security services, told Italian media that the hostages were freed in a military move carried out by Italian special forces, possibly with the help of German and Egyptian intelligence services.

On Sept. 19, kidnappers seized five Italians, five Germans, one Romanian, and eight Egyptians during a safari trip in a convoy of four jeeps at an oasis in the Egyptian western desert. The Egyptians were affiliated to the Egyptian tourism agency that arranged the trip and included the company's owner, four drivers, and two tourist guides. A tourism police agent was also among the kidnapped.

The abductors are believed to have then driven the group to border areas that included Sudan, Libya, and Chad, all of which are accessible from all three countries by four-wheel drive vehicles. News reports said that kidnappers demanded a $15 million ransom and that the German authorities were negotiating with them.

Earlier Sunday, the Sudanese Army announced the killing of six kidnappers and the arrest of two. It said that the abductors belonged to one of Darfur's armed militias, an allegation that was denounced by major groups of combatants in the Sudanese conflict-torn area.

But movement in these particular areas suggests geographic knowledge that Darfuri tribesmen are best at mastering. However, nothing seems to confirm that the kidnapping was politically motivated.

The Egyptian government called the kidnappers "gangsters" without referring to their citizenship.

Egypt has witnessed a string of threats to its tourism endeavors, manifested in a series of bombings once a year from 2004 to 2006 in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt's eastern gate. Unrest also prevailed during the 1990s, with major explosions taking place in other tourist hubs such as the southern historic city of Luxor. A government crackdown on Islamic militant groups managed to curb their mounting operations in the 1990s.

Anna Momigliano contributed to this report from Milan, Italy.

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