19 hostages, including German, Italian and Romanian tourists was seized by masked kidnappers in a remote desert area near the Sudanese and Libyan borders, Egyptian officials said yesterday.
The kidnapping was the first of foreign tourists in Egypt in living memory, although Islamic militants have hit the country's tourist industry in recent decades through bomb and shooting attacks that have killed hundreds.
"This is a gang act (by) masked men," Tourism Minister Zoheir Garrana said.
Security sources said the kidnappers were asking for 6 million euros ($8.8 million) to free the hostages, identified as five Italians, five Germans, one Romanian and eight Egyptians. They said there was no indication militant Islamists were involved.
Egypt's army scoured the border area yesterday for signs of the tourists, who were believed to have been seized on Friday by four masked men while on a desert safari in a remote area where the borders of Egypt, Sudan and Libya meet.
Tourism Minister Garrana said authorities learned of the kidnapping after a tour operator called his wife and told her he was being held hostage with the group. Egyptian state television said those held included an Egyptian border guard officer.
Garrana initially said negotiations were under way with the kidnappers, but later told Egyptian television that there were no such talks.
"There are no negotiations with the kidnappers because there has been no official contact made by them asking the Egyptian government to intervene," Garrana said.
Garrana said the kidnappers were "most likely" Sudanese nationals, and state news agency MENA said the kidnappers were believed to have taken the hostages toward Sudanese territory. Security sources said they might have crossed the border.
One security source said the kidnapp may be done by a group of citizens of nearby Chad, where both Sudanese and Chadian rebels operate.