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Egyptian takes four German tourists hostage

An Egyptian tour guide has taken four German tourists hostage in southern Egypt to try to use them as bargaining chips in a child-custody dispute with his German wife.

A ministry statement named those held as Marco Vidkind, Ralph Laver, Kristof Paning and Peter Nowotnick, saying that they had arrived in Egypt on 6 March 2001. “On March 12, the German embassy received a telephone call from Ibrahim Ali, in which he said that he had kidnapped four German tourists in and threatened not to release them until his children Kerim, seven, and Rami, three, who are in Germany with his German wife Heike Ritter, are returned,” it said.

The statement said the couple had married in 1991 and lived in the Delta governorate of Menoufiya north of Cairo. Ritter left for Germany about 18 months ago after obtaining German passports for the children without Ali's permission.

The statement said the German embassy had turned down several visa requests from Ali who wanted to visit his children.

In Berlin, foreign ministry spokesperson Andreas Michaelis confirmed that four Germans were being held by an armed man who speaks fluent German. He said the man had telephoned the German embassy in Cairo on Monday morning demanding that his two children be brought to Egypt in return for the hostages.

The children are now in Germany with their mother, who won a German court ruling in January giving her temporary custody.

The man has threatened the hostages, who are tied up but who have spoken by telephone to German diplomats, he said.

“Under the circumstances, they are well,” Michaelis said. “He is clearly very emotional,” he said of their captor.

Acting prudently

Security sources said Ali, a guide in the southern tourist resort of Luxor, abducted the four , earlier reported to be women, on Monday, in the Luxor area.

They said the hostages were being held in the town of Esna, 45km south of Luxor, though the ministry statement did not confirm this.

Esna is the site of a the Greco-Roman temple of Khnum often visited by tourists cruising the Nile between Aswan and Luxor.

The German foreign ministry has set up a crisis reaction centre to deal with the problem and Germany has offered Egypt the assistance of its GSG-9 elite anti-guerrilla commandos, but the offer has for now been refused, said Michaelis. “We have, however, an assurance from the Egyptians that they will act very prudently and in a considered way in this matter and that every step will be agreed with the German government.”

It was the first security incident involving foreign tourists in Egypt since Muslim militants killed 58 foreign visitors at Queen Hatshepsut temple in Luxor in November 1997. 

13 March update – Egyptian holds four Germans in row over children

An Egyptian tour guide has taken four German tourists hostage in southern Egypt to try to use them as bargaining chips in a child-custody dispute with his German wife.

However the alleged kidnapper told Abu Dhabi television in a telephone interview that the four had volunteered to help him recover his children and were free to move around. A ministry statement named those held as Marco Vidkind, Ralph Laver, Kristof Paning and Peter Nowotnick, saying that they had arrived in Egypt on 6 March.

“On March 12, the German embassy received a telephone call from Ibrahim Ali, in which he said that he had kidnapped four German tourists in Luxor and threatened not to release them until his children Kerim, seven, and Rami, three, who are in Germany with his German wife Heike Ritter, are returned,” it said.

The statement said the couple had married in 1991 and lived in the Delta governorate of Menoufiya north of Cairo. Ritter left for Germany about 18 months ago after obtaining German passports for the children without Ali's permission. It said the German embassy had turned down several visa requests from Ali, who wanted to visit his children.

One of the hostages, Kristof Paning, told Abu Dhabi television in a telephone interview conducted in German but translated into Arabic, that the tour guide was armed and urged authorities to accept his demands. “We are being held in a relatively small but comfortable room. I can say that our condition is well. We are getting food and are free to move around. We are being treated well by the kidnapper,” Paning said.

He said Ali was armed with grenades and a pistol and that the situation was “a little tense, and thus we demand that his demands be met”.

Egyptian security forces to ‘deal with matter'

Egyptian state television news said security forces were going to deal with the matter “in a way that would guarantee the safety of the hostages”.

A Luxor security source said the hostages were being held at a house in El Karnak, site of a Pharaonic temple just north of Luxor. He said he expected the ordeal to be over within hours.

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The interior ministry statement did not confirm the location and security sources had early said the hostages were being held in the town of Esna, south of Luxor.

The source said state security forces were negotiating with the man and were close to the house but maintaining a discreet distance.

In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Michaelis confirmed that four Germans were being held by an armed man speaking fluent German.

Return of children

He said the man had telephoned the German embassy in Cairo on Monday morning demanding that his two children be brought to Egypt in return for the hostages. The children are now in Germany with their mother, who won a German court ruling in January giving her temporary custody.

The man has threatened the hostages, who are tied up but have spoken by telephone to German diplomats, he said. “Under the circumstances, they are well,” Michaelis said. “He is clearly very emotional,” he said of their captor.

In his interview with Abu Dhabi television Ali appeared to deny he was holding the Germans against their will, saying: “They are not hostages. They came voluntarily.”

“They learned about my case. They learned that the German embassy was refusing to give me a visa to see my children and they suggested to help me, to contact the German embassy and to say that they had been kidnapped,” he said.

“They consider it a kidnapping, I don't. They are friends,” he added.

Asked to comment on the kidnapper's remarks, Paning said: “I cannot respond to this question, but what I want to say is that we understand the human situation in which our kidnapper is in and which pushed him to do such an act. “Our kidnapper is eager to see his children, but we cannot understand his move to kidnap us,” Paning added.

The German Foreign Ministry has set up a crisis reaction centre to deal with the problem and Germany has offered Egypt the assistance of its GSG-9 elite anti-guerrilla commandos, but the offer has for now been refused, Michaelis said. “We have, however, an assurance from the Egyptians that they will act very prudently and in a considered way in this matter and that every step will be agreed with the German government.”

It was the first security incident involving foreign tourists in Egypt since Muslim militants killed 58 foreign visitors at Queen Hatshepsut temple in Luxor in November, 1997. (Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi, Dubai).

14 March update: Egyptian holds four Germans in child custody row

Security forces were negotiating with a tour guide holding four German tourists in southern Egypt in a child-custody dispute with his German wife, security sources said late on Tuesday.

The man, however, told Abu Dhabi television in a telephone interview that the four had volunteered to help him recover his children and were free to move around. A German government spokesman said they were tied up but relatively well. Egypt's interior ministry in a statement named the kidnapper as Ibrahim Ali and those held as Marco Vidkind, Ralph Laver, Kristof Paning and Peter Nowotnick.

Paning, in an phoned interview with Abu Dhabi television, said: “We are being held in a relatively small but comfortable room. I can say that our condition is well. We are getting food and are free to move around. We are being treated well by the kidnapper.”

He said Ali was armed and the situation tense but refused to comment on their exact status, saying: “I cannot respond to this question, but what I want to say is that we understand the human situation in which our kidnapper is in and which pushed him to do such an act.”

The interior ministry said Ali had phoned the German embassy in Cairo on 12 March saying he had kidnapped four German tourists in Luxor and “threatened not to release them until his children Kerim, seven, and Rami, three, who are in Germany with his German wife Heike Ritter, are returned.”

Ritter left for Germany about 18 months ago after obtaining German passports for the children without Ali's permission.
The ministry said the German embassy had turned down several visa requests from Ali, who wanted to visit his children.

Alleged kidnapper: “A kind man”

Ahmed Mikkawi, branch manager of tourism firm Cairo Express at the Gaddis Hotel in Luxor, where Ali works, told Reuters he did not believe that his colleague, whom he last saw three days ago, was involved in kidnapping.

“He is not a kidnapper… He is just going through a personal crisis,” he said.

“They (Ali and the hostages) might be working together,” he added. “He is a kind man, this wasn't planned.”

Egyptian state television news said security forces were going to deal with the matter “in a way that would guarantee the safety of the hostages”.

In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Michaelis said the man had telephoned the embassy on Monday demanding his two children be brought to Egypt in return for the hostages.

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Their mother won a German court ruling in January giving her temporary custody, Michaelis said, adding that those held had spoken by telephone to German diplomats.

“Under the circumstances, they are well,” Michaelis said. “He is clearly very emotional,” he said of their captor.
Michaelis said Germany had “an assurance from the Egyptians that they will act very prudently and in a considered way in this matter and that every step will be agreed with the German government.” (Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi, Dubai).

14 March Update II – Egyptian police bide time with captor of Germans

Egyptian police played a waiting game on Wednesday with a man who kidnapped four German tourists in a child-custody struggle with his German wife. But one of the hostages, contacted by a German newspaper, voiced fears of a lethal shootout if police stormed the hideout of the kidnapper, identified as Ibrahim Ali, 45.

”Ibrahim is thorough. He means what he says. I am afraid that the whole thing here is escalating. He is armed,” Christoph Paning, 48, from Muenster, told Cologne's Express newspaper in a call via the kidnapper's mobile telephone. “Why is everyone playing for time? If the Egyptian police raid the apartment we will all die in a hail of bullets,” the paper, to be published on Thursday, quoted Paning as saying.

Ali, a tourism company employee in the southern resort of Luxor, has held Paning and fellow hostages Marco Wedekind, Ralf Laue and Peter Nowotnick, since Monday.

Express quoted Ali as saying the hostages would die unless he was given access to his children. “I don't want to harm anyone. But if I don't see my children, then I have nothing to lose. The hostages will die then,” Ali told the mass circulation daily.

“I love my children more than anything, give my life for them. I talked with my wife. She wants to come here with the children. But the authorities don't want that. I am forced to do this here because the authorities in Germany are not reasonable,” he said.

Crisis drags on

There was little indication of how the three-day-old stand-off between Egyptian security services and the sleep-deprived kidnapper might be resolved.

“Nothing new has come up,” Ali told Reuters in a late afternoon mobile telephone call. But in an apparent sign that negotiations were continuing, he asked journalists to stop calling him to avoid blocking other calls.

Witnesses said high-ranking Egyptian security officials had arrived in Luxor to be briefed first-hand on the drama. A police officer said earlier that the hostages had been located. “We hope the matter will end within hours.”

The official, who asked not to be named, refused to disclose where the Germans were being held, saying their safety was paramount. “We don't want anything to jeopardise them.”

Ali said his estranged wife Heike Ritter had telephoned him from Germany on Wednesday to tell him she was planning to fly to Egypt with their two children, but gave no details.

A local government official, Mahmoud Khalaf, the head of the High Council of Luxor, told Egypt's state News Agency that he expected the hostages to be released soon.

Ali said earlier that he had tried repeatedly to get a visa to visit his children Kerim, seven, and Rami, three, but had been told that his wife, who won temporary custody from a German court in January, would have to write inviting him to come.

Kidnapper blames Germany

“I don't object to the mother's custody of the children, I object to a German court deciding the fate of Egyptian children,” the exhausted kidnapper said angrily. “The authorities were afraid I would take the children back to Egypt and keep them there, but all I wanted was access to my children. After all these rejections, I have no choice but to demand nothing less than their return,” he declared.

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin declined to comment on the hostage-taker's accusations. “At the current moment, one is not giving any details about the status of the negotiations and thus not making any comment about the Egyptian's position,” the spokesman said.

He said Germany's federal police were leading the negotiations in coordination with the foreign ministry.

Ali called the German embassy in Cairo on Monday saying he had kidnapped the tourists to force the return of his children, taken to Germany by his wife about 18 months ago. A German diplomat said that although Ali had asked the Cairo embassy several times in the past nine months how he could get his children back, he had never applied for a visa.

“By what right does the German government refuse to let me see my children?” Ali asked in a voice cracking with emotion. “Where is the justice in them not permitting Egyptian children to leave Germany and return to their father? How can they separate a father from his children?”

15 March update: German hostages back in Cairo after release

Four German tourists held hostage for three days near the southern Egyptian town of Luxor returned to Cairo on Thursday after their captor surrendered to police.

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Airport sources said the four men, accompanied by a state security team, landed in a private plane at Cairo international airport and were whisked away to an undisclosed location.

Egypt's official Middle East News Agency quoted a German embassy spokesman as saying the four would be flown home within hours. He said they had earlier been taken to a Luxor hospital to rest after their release at about 3 am (0100 GMT). The ex-hostages were tired, but in good health.

Christoph Paning, Marco Wedekind, Ralf Laue and Peter Nowotnick were abducted on Monday by an Egyptian tour company employee who sought to use them as pawns in a child custody battle with his estranged German wife.

Security sources said the kidnapper surrendered to police without a struggle early on Thursday and was taken into custody.

“The hostages were taken by German consular officials and psychologists from Luxor to Cairo. From there they are to return home as soon as possible. The procedure will depend on Egyptian authorities, who will certainly want to question the released hostages,” a German foreign ministry spokesman said.

The kidnapper, identified as Ibrahim Ali, 45, was trying to force the return of his two children from Germany. He kept the hostages in his apartment in the village of Karnak, near Luxor.

Schroeder- Call

The hostage drama ended only hours after German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder telephoned Egyptian President to discuss efforts to free the four Germans.

They had been cooped up since Monday in Ali's cramped first-floor rented flat overlooking a brickyard in a shabby residential area. Police sealed off the apartment after the hostages left and guarded the dilapidated concrete house.

“We only saw the hostages as they were leaving,” Ali's landlady, Negah Kamel Ahmed, told Reuters. She described the kidnapper as a private man who kept to himself. “About six days ago he asked my son to go out and buy him supplies like mineral water and cigarettes because he said he wouldn't be leaving the house for three or four days,” she said.

Ali said by telephone on Wednesday that his wife Heike Ritter had telephoned him from Germany that day to tell him she was planning to fly to Egypt with their two children, but gave no details.

He said earlier that he had tried repeatedly to get a visa to visit his children Kerim, seven, and Rami, three, but had been told that his wife, who won temporary custody from a German court in January, would have to write inviting him to come. “I don't object to the mother's custody of the children, I object to a German court deciding the fate of Egyptian children,” the exhausted man said angrily.

“The authorities were afraid I would take the children back to Egypt and keep them there, but all I wanted was access to my children. After all these rejections, I have no choice but to demand nothing less than their return.”

There was no immediate word on whether Egyptian negotiators had struck a deal with Ali or what charges he would face.

_______

This series of articles was first published by Reuters in March 2001

Author

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual . Khaled Diab is the author of two books: for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil . Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and . He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in , on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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