BEDOUIN gunmen in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have released a British Exxon Mobil executive and his wife who were kidnapped earlier on Thursday on the road from Cairo to the beach resort of Sharm el Sheikh, the company said.
Andy Wills, chairman and managing director of the oil giant's Egypt and Cyprus operations, and his wife were seized when they broke their car trip to change money in Ras es-Sidr, 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Cairo, security sources said.
The couple were held for several hours before being handed over to the army after negotiations with tribal elders.
"ExxonMobil confirms that the chairman and managing director of ExxonMobil Egypt and Cyprus and his wife are safe and unharmed after being held briefly earlier today," Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said.
The kidnappers were demanding the release of four prisoners held in Alexandria on charges of arms smuggling, the Egyptian security sources said.
South Sinai's Red Sea coast is a major tourism area for Egypt and several other tourists have been held briefly by tribesmen in recent months and released unharmed, often after just a few hours of negotiations with authorities.
Security has deteriorated in the isolated Sinai desert region since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising two years ago.
Bedouin have attacked police stations, blocked access to towns and taken hostages to show their discontent with what they see as their poor treatment by Cairo and to press for the release of jailed kinsmen.
Two American women were kidnapped in Sinai in February last year but Egyptian authorities negotiated their release a few hours later.
Two other U.S. tourists were kidnapped in late May that year, and then two more U.S. tourists in July. The captives were released within days in both incidents.