CAIRO — The Egyptian Bedouin who abducted two Boston natives and their guide on Friday vowed he would take more hostages of different nationalities if police do not release his uncle from prison.
Speaking to The Associated Press by telephone, Jirmy Abu-Masuh of the Tarbeen tribe in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, said the captives would remain safe, but that more would be abducted if his uncle is not released.
“If my uncle gets 50 years (in prison), they will stay with me for 50 years. If they release him, I will release them,” he said of the captives. “Tomorrow I will kidnap other nationalities and their embassies will be notified for the whole world to know.”
Abu-Masuh, a 32 year-old truck driver, said the American man, 61, and woman, 39, were
treated as “guests” and given tea, coffee and a traditional lamb dinner reserved for special occasions in Bedouin culture. He said that the man is a pastor from Massachusetts and that he had been allowed to call his wife.
“I told them `nothing will happen to you. You are my guest’,” he said.
The two Americans could not be immediately reached for comment. Abu-Masuh said they were asleep in his home located deep in central Sinai’s rugged mountains.
The two Americans were abducted in broad daylight when Abu-Masuh stopped the tour bus they were in with dozens of other tourists along a major road linking Cairo to the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai where the Old Testament says Moses received the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. The route to the monastery is a frequent target by Bedouins who abduct tourists to pressure police to meet their demands, which is usually to release of a detained relative they say has been unjustly arrested.
While armed, Abu-Masuh said he told the man and woman to get off the bus and took their Egyptian tour guide with them to translate.
“The Americans with me are scared, but we were treated well,” tour guide Haytham Ragab, 28, told the AP from the captor’s phone.
Ragab said he is not allowed to use his own mobile phone except by permission from his captor.
“I want this solved,” Ragab said, his voice quivering. “I tried to calm them (the Americans) and tried to calm myself, but I don’t know what’s to come next.”
U.S. Embassy spokesman David Linfield said the embassy was looking into the kidnapping and working closely with Egyptian authorities who were doing everything to ensure their safe release.
Friday’s abduction is the latest in a series of kidnappings in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula over the past year. Abducted tourists are rarely harmed and usually released within days. In February, the AP interviewed two American women from California who say their Bedouin kidnappers gave them tea and dried fruit, and talked about religion and tribal rights. They were allowed to bring their Egyptian tour guide with them.
Abu-Masuh said he wants police to release his 62 year-old uncle, who he said suffers from back and heart problems and diabetes. He said his uncle was arrested Sunday on his way to the northern coastal city of Alexandria after refusing to pay a nearly 100 dollar bribe to police who stopped him along the way. The story could not immediately verified.
“These police are the same traitors of the Mubarak regime. Nothing has changed,” he said, referring to ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s widely-mistrusted security forces. Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising last year partly fueled by anger at police brutality and corruption.
“I hate the security forces and honestly they made me hate being Egyptian too,” he said.
Bedouins in Sinai, a region that borders the Gaza Strip and Israel, have long complained of state discrimination against them. They say they are never given high-level posts in the military and frequently harassed by police. Many are unemployed and some turn to cross-border smuggling of people and weapons for survival.
Security officials said Friday they were working on releasing Abu-Masuh’s uncle. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Abu-Masuh said that Egypt’s Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri called him personally and asked him to release the Americans “who are guests in our country.”
He said his uncle called him from prison pleading the same and fearing police might arrest his children or wife to pressure Abu-Masuh.
“People ask me what did these Americans do to deserve this. I ask what did my uncle do to deserve this?” he said.