The brief abduction of two American women and their Egyptian guide at gunpoint along a major highway in Egypt's Sinai peninsula Friday is a reminder that there’s real danger traveling to countries in political turmoil, say security experts.
The tourists, aged 60 and 65, were returning from the popular St. Catherine’s Monastery to the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. A group of masked gunmen held up their tourist bus, snatching watches, cell phones and cash, security sources told AFP. South Sinai Police Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Naguib, in charge or regional security, said the Americans have now been freed after a deal was made following negotiations with Bedouin tribesmen, believed to be behind the abductions.
Daniel Karson, chairman of business intelligence and investigations at the security firm Kroll, says if you are abducted it’s important to remain calm and do as your kidnappers say.
“Do not resist, do your best to maintain your composure. If it is kidnapping for ransom, chances are good you’ll at some point, you’ll be exchanged,” he says.
The abduction is the latest blow to Egypt's crucial tourism industry, already struggling a year after the revolution that ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak. The country has faced a surge of political unrest and crime since last year's uprising.
Earlier this week, armed Islamic militants seized 25 Chinese factory workers after forcing them off a bus elsewhere in the peninsula, but they were freed the next day. A French tourist was also killed during a shooting in Sharm el Sheikh last weekend.
While the U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, it has not issued a travel ban. Travel companies have been offering deep discounts to lure tourists to Egypt, which has seen an almost 30 percent drop in tourism since last year.
Karson says if you are considering making a trip to a country that is politically unstable, there are several things to do prevent yourself from being a target.
First, he says, don’t dress like an American. “Lose the baseball cap. If you are wearing jeans, a sweat shirt with the name of an American college on it and Nike sneakers, you’re advertising yourself as a Westerner.”
Karson advises to travel in large groups, don't go off the beaten path and hire a reputable local guide who speaks the local language and, if needed, can negotiate on your behalf. And he says, no matter where you go, never leave home without a flashlight, GPS phone, and if you have a medical condition, a supply of your prescription drugs. Leave another supply of your prescription drugs secured in your hotel room along with a copy of your passport.
For those considering a trip, advanced research is also important. The State Department website also has regularly-updated country advisories, and if you need further information security services like iJet can help.
"The State Department advisories, you should read them and take them seriously,” says Karson.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.