Israeli tourist Amir Omar Hassan, who was freed with his female traveling companion Tuesday after four days in captivity at the hands of Bedouins in the Sinai, said his abductors threatened to kill him.
In an interview on Channel 2 News on Wednesday, Hassan said, “The abductors attacked us physically and threatened our lives, and told us we would die if their relatives weren’t released.”
He said he had experienced “a couple of very difficult days,” adding, “I’m trying to believe it never happened,” and that it was “good to sleep at home.”
Hassan, an Arab Israeli from Nazareth, said his trip to the Sinai wasn’t planned, and that he met his fellow hostage, Norwegian tourist Ingvild Selvik Ask, immediately before boarding a taxi to the resort town of Dahab.
He described how the cab they were in was ambushed and lost control, and that he was approached by armed men, who delivered blows to his head.
“I told them that I speak Arabic… They didn’t explain anything, they told me I was going to die,” he recalled.
Hassan said he and Ask were told they would be the kidnappers’ “guests” until Egyptian prisoners close to the captors were released from prison.
Hassan said that he was not aware of travel warnings in the media instructing Israelis not to go to Sinai and that he was not warned by Israeli authorities at the Taba border crossing. “They said that everything is normal” on the Israel-Egyptian border, he said.
Last week, the Counterterrorism Bureau warned Israelis against traveling to the Sinai Peninsula, Turkey and Tunisia during the Passover holiday.
Israel on Tuesday formally thanked the Egyptian authorities for their role in speedily resolving the case.
The Egyptian Independent newspaper reported early Tuesday that the two were freed after four days of negotiations between the Egyptian government and the Bedouin kidnappers, mediated by Bedouin leaders in the Sinai.
After the two were set free, they were taken to police headquarters in the city of el-Arish near the border with Israel and Gaza, security officials said.
Following the abduction, authorities negotiated with the kidnappers who demanded the release of a cousin suspected of involvement in the killing of policemen. The kidnappers were given assurances that authorities would look into their demand, said the Egyptian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
In Norway, Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide thanked the Egyptians, saying he was “happy and relieved” at the Norwegian tourist’s release. “The cooperation with Egyptian authorities has been excellent and we owe them gratitude for the happy ending to this matter,” he said.
Egypt’s private ONTV channel aired an interview with the Norwegian tourist after her release. She said that she had been treated well.
“It has been difficult, but I am so happy… for going back to Norway and my family,” she told the reporter, and added: “We have been very well treated.”
During the interview, the Israeli tourist shielded his face and did not speak.
Tourists have been targeted in the past by Bedouin in Sinai who are seeking to pressure police to free detained relatives. The abductees are typically not held long and are released unharmed.
Earlier this month, a British couple were kidnapped and held briefly by Bedouins who demanded the release of their detained relative who was arrested and accused of smuggling weapons from Libya to Egypt.
Sinai’s local Bedouin population is largely resentful of the central government in Cairo because of years of discrimination, marginalization and heavy handed security sweeps under Egypt’s former autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak. Many live on the smuggling of weapons, drugs and human trafficking. Egypt’s northern Sinai region and border areas with Israel and Gaza have plunged into lawlessness and are also believed to be strongholds of Islamic extremists.