- Associated Press - Monday, July 16, 2012

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Two American tourists and their Egyptian guide who were abducted by a Bedouin in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last week were released unharmed Monday, a security official and the kidnapper told the Associated Press.

The Rev. Michel Louis, 61, and Lissa Alphonse, 39, both Boston-area residents, had been kidnapped from a bus Friday along with their guide, Haytham Ragab, on a Sinai road by a Bedouin who was demanding the release of his uncle, who had been detained by Egyptian police on suspicion of drug possession.

The kidnapper, Jirmy Abu-Masuh, 32, told the AP that he had handed the three over to security officials near the northern Sinai city of el-Arish on Monday after he was promised that authorities were working on his uncle’s release.

“We are a people of mercy, and they don’t have anything to do with this,” Mr. Abu-Masuh said, referring to the Americans.

Gen. Ahmed Bakr, head of security in North Sinai province, confirmed the release, and said the three were in the protection of security officials in Sinai.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell also confirmed their release and thanked Egyptian authorities.

Egyptian officials made clear earlier Monday that they would not bend to Mr. Abu-Masuh’s demands. Officials and heads of tribes met with him for several hours Monday before an agreement to release the hostages was reached, according to officials. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

In Boston’s Dorchester section, where Mr. Louis lives, about 10 family members and friends celebrated the news on the porch of his home, hugging and chanting “hallelujah.”

“We are in joy after receiving such a message and we believe in God and let me tell you, He did not let us down,” Mr. Louis‘ oldest son, the Rev. Jean Louis, said outside the house before breaking down in tears and being led back inside. He said he wanted to talk to his father and his mother, who was not abducted and remains in Egypt.

“I want to hear my father. I want to hear my mother,” he said.

Several joyful parishioners gathered nearby at the Presbyterian church where the elder Mr. Louis is the pastor.

The abduction illustrated a broader breakdown of security in the Sinai, a key destination in Egypt’s vital tourism industry, where lawlessness has risen since last year’s ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Relations between the Bedouin and authorities have long been tumultuous, but under the Mubarak regime’s tight hold, the disputes very rarely spilled over to effect tourists.

However, this year has seen a string of kidnappings of tourists, usually by Bedouin trying to wrest concessions from authorities or the release of jailed relatives. In most cases, captives have been released unhurt after a few days.

The two Americans, on a tour of the Holy Land, had been heading from Cairo to the sixth century St. Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai, said to be the site where Moses received the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.

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