Two Kidnapped American Women Released in Egypt

PHOTO: The Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt is shown in this file photo.PlayWalter Bibikow/Danita Delimont/Newscom
WATCH Kidnapped Americans Released in Egypt

Two elderly American women kidnapped in Egypt were released today, hours after they were seized by Bedouin gunmen.

"They've been released and our embassy, our mission in Egypt, stands ready to provide all consular assistance to them," a U.S. State Department official said today. "We appreciate the efforts of the authorities in securing the release of the citizens."

The women and their Egyptian guide were snatched this morning as they traveled south from Saint Catherine's monastery on Mount Sinai to the Red Sea resort, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egyptian officials said.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Naguib, the head of south Sinai security, told the Associated Press that the women were driving in a minivan. The Egyptian newspaper, Al Masry Alyoum reported that the van carried several tourists and that the Americans were taken out of the vehicle and three other tourists were left behind.

The kidnapping did not appear to be terror related.

Kidnapped American Women Released in Egypt

The American women were not immediately identified, but Egyptian officials said they were age 60 and 65. The nationalities of those left behind were not immediately known.

The kidnappers are described by authorities as Bedouin tribesmen who were demanding the release of other Bedouins who were arrested earlier this week on drug and robbery charges.

Tribal leaders mediated efforts to free the two women and their guide, Naguib told The Associated Press.

Katharina Gollner-Sweet, press attache at the U.S. embassay, said, "Egyptian authorities have confirmed to us that two tourists, they say American, have been kidnapped in Sinai."

She later confirmed that the women were American, but declined to identify them citing privacy considerations.

Earlier this week, Bedouins kidnapped 25 Chinese workers in Sinai. They were released unharmed the following day.

In recent months, Egypt has seen an uptick of violence as the security situation deteriorates. This comes as thousands of protesters in Cairo begin to march on the Ministry of Interior building to protest this week's violent soccer stadium riots that left at least 74 people dead. Soccer fans blame the violence on the lack of security at the game. Four people have died so far today in clashes.

Since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the country's tourism industry has taken a hit, with revenues plunging nearly 30 percent in the last year. Tourism Minister Mounir Abdel-Nour said last month that the number of tourists who came to Egypt in 2011 dropped to 9.8 million from 14.7 million the previous year. Revenues for the year clocked in at $8.8 billion compared to $12.5 billion in 2010.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.