Kidnapper: Why I nabbed two Americans in Egypt's Sinai
The recent kidnappings in Egypt's Sinai are not motivated by religious extremism or a desire for money, but a desperate desire to make the government listen to a marginalized group.
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“When we go to Cairo or the Delta and get stopped for ID checks, we are treated as foreigners. We are labeled as ‘drug dealers’ and the ‘Jews of Sinai.’ I am Egyptian like them,” said Abu Masouh, who was eager to tell journalists his story and sounded relaxed in a long phone interview.Skip to next paragraph
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He says his treatment of his captives shows he is not the kind of person police say he is. “When I kidnapped them, I treated them well, although they are infidels, non-Muslims, Christians – but they have kids as I do. Their kids wait for them at night as my kids do. I have morals and humanity in me.”
Without legal work, smuggling thrives
Some Bedouin have turned to illegal activity given the dearth of legitimate economic opportunities. Smuggling of weapons, drugs, and humans is a big business in Sinai. In the north of the peninsula, extremist Islamist groups have grown stronger since the uprising. And starting in late 2004, terrorism became a problem and a string of bombings targeting tourist resorts precipitated a police crackdown.
In the aftermath of the first bombings, some 3,500 Bedouins were arrested, tortured, or disappeared, says Ms. Morayef. Family members of wanted suspects were sometimes taken and held until the suspect surrendered himself.
“That’s a reflection of the complete breakdown of the relationship between the police and the Bedouin in the aftermath of the 2005 roundup,” says Morayef. In the following years, there was sporadic violence as Bedouin would occasionally kidnap a policeman or block roads, and police would detain Bedouin without charge under Egypt’s emergency law.
Abu Masouh says he and his uncle are victims of police policies. “There are policemen here who abuse us because we don’t have a voice. We are oppressed here,” he says. He has been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison in absentia. He says police accused him of crimes he did not commit because he refused to work as an informant.
The kidnapper, who says he is 32 but has a voice that sounds several decades older, said he stopped a bus at random and showed the hostages hospitality.
“I told them you are our guests in Sinai and I am your host and protector here. I told them about my story and my uncle’s case,” he said. As has been the case with kidnappings over the past year, he treated them well. He kept them at his house, tried to show them around the area, he says, and gave them food, even roasting a sheep for them.
Egyptian officials say they did not give in to Abu Masouh’s demands. Abu Masouh, who had promised to hold the captives until his uncle was released, said a conversation with the two Americans yesterday convinced him to let them go. “The lady said that she had kids in America and the man with her said that he was a priest heading for pilgrimage in Israel. He said, ‘I have kids and work and I am innocent.’ He said, ‘Imagine yourself in America and some people kidnapped you for something you didn’t do, what will you do?’”
Ahmed Nawar contributed reporting for this story.