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Kidnapped European Tourists Freed in Egypt

All 19 European tourists and Egyptians who were taken hostage by bandits in a remote Egyptian desert region 10 days ago have been freed and are said to be in good health.

The freed hostages touch down at al Maza military airport

The freed hostages were greeted by foreign diplomats at al Maza airport

The freed hostages were transported by military aircraft to al Maza military airport, next to Cairo's international airport, where they were greeted by Egyptian military and government officials.

Egyptian authorities said the hostages were freed after a mission near the Sudan-Chad border and that half the kidnappers were killed.

The kidnappers had demanded a six-million-euro ransom for the hostages -- to be paid by Germany -- but authorities insisted no ransom changed hands.

The identity of the kidnappers has still not been confirmed, but reports speculate the bandits may have been connected with a Darfur rebel group, a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army.

However, none of the region's rebel groups have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Steinmeier uncertain over release details

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked the authorities that contributed toward securing a "happy ending to the hijacking."

"I hope (the freed hostages) will return to Germany as soon as possible," he said, refusing to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding their release.

"I do not want to reveal details at the moment. We should wait for the safe return of the hostages first," he said.

Italy thanks involved authorities

The freed hostages carry bunches of flowers at al Maza airport, Cairo

The five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian will undergo medical tests before returning home

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Frattini said the release was the result of "international cooperation for which we should be truly grateful to the authorities of the other countries that worked with us."

The minister said the release was achieved thanks to "activities that cannot be revealed in collaboration with the Egyptian authorities," whom he thanked, "in addition to the Germans, who collaborated with (Italy) and the Egyptian, Sudanese and Libyan authorities for permitting the hostages’ transit through their respective territories."

He said Italian special forces took part in securing the hostages' release.

The group -- consisting of five Germans, five Italians and a Romanian -- was kidnapped Sept. 19 while on a desert safari in an isolated south-western region of Egypt.

The group was believed to have been first moved across the border to Sudan to the remote mountain region of Jebel Uweinat, a plateau that straddles the borders of Egypt, Libya and Sudan, before the bandits took them into Chad, according to Sudanese officials.

Sudden shootout

In an unexpected turn of events Sunday, gunfire reportedly broke out between Sudanese troops and the hostage-takers after the latter were spotted near the Sudan-Egypt-Libya border area. The clash ended with the death of six of the bandits and the capture of two.

"The problem was solved. They had agreed to the ransom. It was merely a matter of receiving the hostages, but then this surprise happened," an Egyptian security official said.

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