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Kidnapper: Why I nabbed two Americans in Egypt's Sinai

The recent kidnappings in Egypt's Sinai are not motivated by religious extremism or a desire for money, but a desperate desire to make the government listen to a marginalized group.

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US tourists Rev. Michel Louis (l.) and Lissa Alphonse rest at a police station in Al-Arish, after they were released by their kidnappers in the northern part of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, July 16. The two tourists abducted in the mountainous Sinai region were freed on Monday after three days in captivity.

Reuters

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Jirmy Abu Masouh was desperate.

Police had arrested his uncle and accused him of drug possession. Mr. Abu Masouh, a Bedouin living in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, says his uncle is innocent, but no one would listen to him.

So he did what Bedouin in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula have increasingly done in the past 18 months when they have had a grievance against the government: He kidnapped two American tourists and their Egyptian guide.

Massachusetts residents Rev. Michel Louis and Lissa Alphonse were traveling to St. Catherine’s, an ancient monastery at the foot of the mountain where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments, with their guide, Haytham Ragab, when Abu Masouh took the three of them from a bus on July 13. 

“My voice was dead, and when I kidnapped, my voice was heard. When [the Americans] called the American embassy and told them about my uncle, people now have heard me,” said Abu-Masouh in a phone interview from Sinai. 

Abu Masouh released his hostages unharmed yesterday after three days of negotiations with Egyptian security officials, and they were reunited with their group in Israel today. His uncle has not been released.

Their saga is typical of many of the brief abductions of foreigners by Bedouins that have happened in the last year and a half in Sinai. The kidnappers are not militants; they are not motivated by religious extremism and don't ask for ransom from the hostages' families. They want concessions from the authorities, like the release of imprisoned relatives.

And after decades of being marginalized and discriminated against by the government, and nearly a decade of police crackdowns, they say kidnapping foreigners is one of the only ways to force authorities to listen to their demands. With the security vacuum that has prevailed since the anti-Mubarak uprising last year, foreign tourists in Sinai are fairly easy targets.

A last resort

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