Kidnapped Israeli tourist safely back from Egypt

Kidnapped Israeli tourist safely back from Egypt

Amir Omar Hassan: Bedouin abductors 'attacked us physically and threatened our lives," says he was not warned not to go to Sinai

Amir Omar Hassan, left, and Ingvild Selvik Ask, who were abducted by Bedouin gunmen last week, are seen after their release Monday at police headquarters in el-Arish, Egypt (photo credit: AP/Khaled Kandil)
Amir Omar Hassan, left, and Ingvild Selvik Ask, who were abducted by Bedouin gunmen last week, are seen after their release Monday at police headquarters in el-Arish, Egypt (photo credit: AP/Khaled Kandil)

Arab Israeli tourist Amir Omar Hassan arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday night, after being kidnapped and held for days by Bedouin in the Sinai Peninsula.

He was met by his family, residents of the northern Arab-Israeli city of Nazareth.

Speaking at the airport, Hassan said, “The abductors attacked us physically and threatened our lives, and told us we would die if their relatives weren’t released.”

Hassan were released overnight Monday to Egyptian custody.

He told Channel 2 in a Wednesday evening interview that it was “good to sleep at home.” Hassan told the network he had experienced “a couple of very difficult days,” adding, “I’m trying to think as if it never happened.”

The trip, he said, wasn’t planned. He head off for Sinai for two or three days, and met his companion, Norwegian tourist Ingvild Selvik Ask, before his trip to Dahab. First Hassan got into a cab, with Ask later joining him, and they set out.

The cab they were in was ambushed and lost control, Hassan said. Hassan was then approached by armed men and suffered some hits to his head. “I told them that I,” Hassan hesitated a moment, “speak Arabic.”

“They told me to shut up,” he said. Hassan said he and Ask would be the kidnappers’ “guests,” he said, until certain prisoners close to the captors were released from prison.

Hassan said that no one warned him not to go to Sinai. “They said that everything is normal,” on the Israel-Egyptian border, he said. He did not clarify what “everythign is normal,” meant.

As of last week the Israeli government had warned its citizens that Sinai was on an Israeli government travel advisorlist [Hebrew] online. The state warned that Israelis during the Passover festival Israelis should especially avoid the Sinai Peninsula, Turkey and Tunisia, where the CTB warned of possible attacks around Lag Ba’omer.

Israel on Tuesday formally thanked the Egyptian authorities for their role in speedily resolving the case.

MENA 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.

The tourists were seized last Friday along a main road in Sinai and were held in the peninsula’s desolate mountainous Gabal-Maghara area. According to earlier reports, a taxi driver told police he was driving the two to the popular Red Sea diving site of Dahab when gunmen ambushed his vehicle and seized them.

After the two — an Israeli man and a Norwegian woman — 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 was treated well.

“It has been difficult but I am so happy … for going back to Norway and my family,” she told the TV, and added: “We have been very well treated,” she added at the time.

During the interview, the Israeli tourist shielded his face and did not speak.

Hassan, a student from Nazareth, is a member of the country’s Arab minority. On Friday, his brother Khaled told Channel 10 that he sounded “very nervous.” He added that prior to the trip, he had begged his brother not to go to Sinai.

“I personally asked him not to go there, to postpone it, but he did not agree,” he said.

On Tuesday, Khaled told Israel Radio his brother had called his family overnight Monday to inform them of his release.

Tourists have been targeted in the past by Bedouin in Sinai seeking to pressure police to free detained relatives. They are typically not held long and are released unharmed.

Earlier this month, a British couple were kidnapped and held briefly by Bedouins who demanded release of their detained relative 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 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.

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