Freed Western tourists back home

A01982466.jpgA group of Western tourists, who spent 10 days as hostages in the Sahara Desert, have returned home.

Five Italians flew from Egypt to Turin, while five Germans and a Romanian national landed in Berlin.

The tourists, and their eight Egyptian guides, had been abducted in a remote border region of Egypt.

They were rescued unharmed on Monday near the Sudan-Chad border. Half of the kidnappers were killed, and no ransom was paid, Egyptian officials said.

Abductees’ story

The Western tourists were greeted by their families and government officials in Berlin and Turin, in what was an emotional reunion.

Gilf al-Kebir excursion

The group were seized in the remote Gilf al-Kebir area

Some of the freed men and women then revealed dramatic details of their seizure by gunmen, which was followed by a dash through remote areas of the Sahara Desert.

“They attacked us with guns… they took everything. They made us kneel on the ground at gunpoint and then took us away,” Italian tourist Walter Barroto told Sky TG24 at Turin’s Caselle airport.

Giovanna Quaglia, another Italian tourist, said: “The first day we, I mean us women especially, kept our heads down, with a veil…

“This was our own choice, it seemed the most appropriate behaviour – we didn’t look for any contact.

“But I must say we were never subjected to physical violence,” Ms Quaglia said.

In Berlin, the freed Germans made no comments to the media.

Rescue operation

The tourists were freed by Egyptian troops in a pre-dawn operation on Monday, Egyptian security sources said.

Egyptian Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi said “half of the kidnappers were eliminated” in the raid, the official MENA news agency reported.

However, this was later disputed by other officials who said there had been little or no violence.

Some reports say Sudanese troops were also involved in the operation.

The breakthrough came a day after Sudanese troops reportedly clashed with the kidnappers in northern Sudan, killing six gunmen. Another two were taken into custody.

The two suspects – whose identity was not revealed – claimed the tourists were in Chad but their exact whereabouts at the time of rescue remains unclear. Chad denied the group was within its borders.

After the rescue, the Western tourists and their guides were flown to Cairo.

German officials had been negotiating via satellite phone with the kidnappers, who were demanding a ransom of $8.8m (£4.9m).

Egyptian officials said no money exchanged hands.

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