Egypt hostages freed

The word is the 19 hostages are now free and healthy.

Update: Reuters says:

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CAIRO, Sept 28 (Reuters) - The 11 Western tourists and eight Egyptians taken hostage in a remote border area of Egypt more than a week ago have been freed and are in good health, state-run Egyptian television said on Monday.

The hostages were on their way back to Cairo, the state television reported, quoting an unidentified official source.

Egypt had said four masked gunmen kidnapped the tourists -- five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian -- and their Egyptian guides and drivers while on a desert safari in a remote border area and then whisked them into Sudan.

The Sudanese army said on Sunday it had killed the leader of the kidnappers and five other gunmen in a gun battle near the Egyptian and Libyan border, but said the hostages were in Chad under the protection of 30 gunmen.

One security official said the kidnappers had demanded a ransom of 6 million euros ($8.78 million).

Update II: More details from AP:

CAIRO, Egypt - Egyptian and Sudanese troops rescued an abducted 19-member European tour group in an assault on the kidnappers in the remote Sahara borderland, officials said. The tourists and their Egyptian guides returned safely to Cairo on Monday.

The operation, apparently backed by European special forces, ends a 10-day hostage drama that took the 11 Europeans and their eight drivers and guides across a barren stretch of the Sahara Desert. They were seized by gunmen on Sept. 19 while on a desert safari in remote southwestern Egypt. Their abductors took them to Sudan. Reports followed that they were then taken to Libya, or perhaps even Chad.

An Egyptian security official said they were rescued in a joint operation near the Sudanese-Chadian border late Sunday or early Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi said "half the kidnappers" were killed in the rescue operation, according to the state news agency MENA, but the report did not give a precise number or give details on the rescue.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.