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11 Europeans are held in Egypt

Kidnappers seize tourists in desert near Sudan. $6 million in ransom sought.

CAIRO, Egypt — Kidnappers have seized 11 European tourists and eight Egyptians during a Sahara desert safari to Gilf al-Kebir, a plateau famed for its prehistoric cave paintings, Egyptian officials said Monday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in New York that the group had been freed unharmed Monday, and a military official confirmed their release. But Egyptian officials in Cairo and New York later said they had not yet been freed and Aboul Gheit’s announcement to reporters that they had been let go was based on incorrect information.

The five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian were seized Friday along with their Egyptian guides and drivers while camping near the Sudanese border, Egyptian Tourism Minister Zoheir Garana said before the release was announced. The kidnappers took the captives, including two Italians in their 70s, into Sudan, he said.

An official said the abduction was not connected to Islamic militants, who have previously attacked tourists in southern Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.

Garana said the tour company negotiated with the kidnappers, who demanded up to $6 million in ransom. He said the German government was involved in the talks but the Egyptian government was not. Germany’s Foreign Ministry said only that it had formed a “crisis team” on the abduction.

The kidnapping was only discovered because the Egyptian owner of the tour company, who was on the trip, was able to call his German wife by mobile phone, Garana told state television. The group included eight Egyptians, he said.

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