Norwegian hostage freed in Sinai

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A Norwegian doctor and an Israeli man, kidnapped when the taxi they were sharing was ambushed between two tourist areas on the southern Sinai Peninsula late last week, were set free by their Bedouin captors during the night. It was the latest in a string of kidnappings in the area that’s long been popular with tourists.

“I’m very, very happy that I can go home to Norway, to see my family and to stay with my friends whom I love so much,” Dr Ingvild Selvik Ask , age 31, told reporters in a video aired by news bureau Reuters Tuesday morning. Both Ask and her fellow passenger, 34-year-old Amir Hassan, met reporters in the offices of local authorities in Al-Arish.

Well-treated
Both Ask and Hassan were wearing head scarves that covered many of their features, but they seemed to be in good shape after their nearly four-day ordeal. Ask told newspaper VG that she had been given food, clothing and drink while held captive.

Officials at Norway’s foreign ministry said Egyptian authorities had been responsible for negotiations with the Bedouin captors, who reportedly demanded that two of their relatives imprisoned for various crimes be set free. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) had reported that the negotiations were difficult, however, because the imprisoned relatives were convicted of their crimes based on strong evidence, and even a local Bedouin representative said it “wouldn’t be right” to let them go.

Egyptian newspaper The Daily News reported that Egyptian negotiators had tried to convince the kidnappers to release the two hostages in return for a promise that they’d reopen an investigation into their relatives’ case. Details of the negotiations that resulted in their release around 2:30am on Tuesday weren’t immediately released.

‘No ransom paid’ by Norway
Ragnhild Imerslund, communications chief for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed that Norwegian authorities “don’t pay ransom” as a matter of principle. She told NRK that the Egyptians were in charge of the negotiations but that Norwegian authorities had direct contact themselves with authorities in both the southern Sinai and in the north, where the hostages were eventually taken.

“We are very grateful for the job the Egyptian authorities have done, and the cooperation with them has been excellent,” Imerslund told NRK. She said the Norwegian Embassy in Cairo also had “close contact” with “leaders at a high level” in the Bedouin community.

Imerslund said Tuesday morning that Ask was already on her way to Cairo, where she would receive any help needed from the embassy, and that embassy officials would arrange her further travel home to Norway as soon as possible.

VG reported that the kidnappers warned that other tourists in the southern Sinai would be at risk until their demands were met. The region is the site of such popular resorts as Sharm-al-Sheik in Egypt and other resorts along the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, best known for its diving in pristine waters. Ask told VG her trip to the area proved to be “the wildest safari” she’d ever been on

“I’m just very relieved that this is now over,” she told Reuters.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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