California women kidnapped by Bedouins in Egypt call captors ‘kind’

By Aya Batrawy, AP

CAIRO — Their kidnappers gave them tea and dried fruit, and talked about religion and tribal rights. The California women were allowed to bring their Egyptian tour guide. One even put out his cigarette in the car when a hostage said the smoke was bothering her. The women abducted for several hours Friday by armed Bedouin tribesmen in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula hesitated to call the men “captors,” saying that the kidnappers were kind, polite and hospitable. “All of this is an unforgettable memory,” Norma Supe, a 63-year-old nurse from Union City, Califfornia, told The Associated Press. “Maybe God had a purpose for this. It was probably to encourage more faith in me.” Supe and Patti Ganal, of Los Gatos, California, were snatched Friday from a minivan on a tour of Sinai, a restive region. The abduction happened after Ganal, Supe, Ganal’s husband and two other Americans had finished a tour of the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery.

Ganal, 66, offered herself as a hostage after the tribesmen demanded that two Americans get off the bus. Her husband was too physically challenged, she said. Their Egyptian tour guide, Hisham Zaki, was allowed to go with the women. Supe also volunteered when she noticed the two other tourists crouched in fear. “I was not afraid at all because I know God has sent us here,” Ganal told the AP in Cairo, where the group was continuing with its tour. The Bedouins had Kalashnikov rifles visible, but did not hold their hostages at gunpoint, the women said. Zaki asked to accompany the women as their translator. The Bedouins drove for a few hours through the mountains, and suggested to the women that they were doubling as new tour guides. Ganal, a devout Christian, said she began talking to the men about God. The kidnappers said several times they would not harm the women. Zaki said they were seeking leverage to pressure the government to release two relatives, including one of the kidnappers’ sons. At one point, Ganal asked Zaki to tell one of the captors to put out his cigarette since the smoke was bothering her in the car. “I told her, ‘Are you joking? You are kidnapped,’” Zaki said. She insisted; after Zaki relayed her request, the Bedouin kidnapper threw his cigarette out of the car window. The kidnappers stopped, made a fire for the women to stay warm and made the women coffee. But Ganal does not drink coffee. “So they made me tea,” she said.

A security official told the AP the Bedouin captors are from the el-Qararsha tribe in South Sinai Peninsula, home to some of Egypt’s most lawless tribes and top tourist sites. The Bedouins released Zaki and the women after negotiations with tribal leaders, security officials told the AP.

Security officials promised the group from the el-Qararsha tribe that they will take another look at case of the two detained men that prompted the kidnapping. A police official said that the two men in custody were known drug dealers who were detained on Jan. 28 in Tor city, the capital of South Sinai.