US State Department, Egypt work to free American hostages being held in Sinai Peninsula

The U.S. State Department announced Sunday that it is working closely with Egyptian authorities to bring about the safe release of three hostages in the Sinai Peninsula, two of which are American.

Rev. Michel Louis, the 61-year-old pastor of a Boston Pentecostal church, was on a trip to retrace Jesus' steps through the Holy Land with 23 other members of the clergy and worshippers when he was abducted Friday. Along with him, a 39-year-old Boston woman in the group and a tour guide were kidnapped in broad daylight.

The three are being held captive by Jirmy Abu-Masuh, an Egyptian Bedouin, who told the Associated Press he was armed when he stopped a bus on a road linking Cairo to Mount Sinai and ordered the three to get off.

Abu-Masuh added that they would be released only after police release his 62-year-old uncle from prison, and he vowed to take more hostages of different nationalities if his demands are not met. He said his uncle was arrested a week ago after refusing to pay a bribe to police who stopped him along the way.

The U.S. State Department said it was "aware" of the the kidnappings on Sunday.

"We will provide consular assistance as needed," spokesman John Echard said in a statement. "Due to privacy laws, we are unable to provide further details regarding this incident."

A security source told Reuters that Egyptian officials are enlisting local negotiators hoping to end the hostage situation.

"A high-level security delegation has been formed in addition to some tribal sheikhs to enter direct negotiations with the kidnappers to end the crisis in a peaceful manner," the source said.

The source did not disclose when talks would begin, but Abu-Masuh said officials have already visited him to discuss the captives' release.

Abu-Masuh said Egypt's Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri called him personally and asked him to release the Americans "who are guests in our country." He said his uncle called him from prison pleading the same and fearing police might arrest his children or wife to pressure Abu-Masuh.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought up the case of the two kidnapped Americans when she met with her Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Saturday.

Rev. Jean Louis, the son of  Rev. Michel Louis, said his father had natural medicine to treat his diabetes when he was taken by Abu-Masuh, but he had no information about his condition or if he would be released. Abu-Masuh said Rev. Michel Louis's medicine was left on the bus and security officials will have to help with getting it.

Members of a the Boston church prayed for his release Sunday.

Rev. Jean Louis said the abduction took place when his father was making his annual mission trip to the Holy Land.

"He's been doing it for the past four years now, and this just turned out to be a little different from any other year," said the younger Louis, who works as a youth pastor at a church founded by his father.

The abduction took place along the road linking Cairo to the 6th-century St. Catherine's Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai where the Old Testament says Moses received the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. The route is a frequent target by Bedouins who abduct tourists to pressure police to meet their demands, which is usually to release a detained relative they say has been unjustly arrested.

Friday's abduction was the latest in a series of kidnappings in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula over the past year. Abducted tourists are rarely harmed and usually released within days.

Louis' son said the family is concerned about all three captives and does not want to discuss communications with the U.S. government so as not to jeopardize the chances for their release.

"Any other family or anybody that has loved ones that are in a situation like that can feel ... a bit uneasy," Louis said outside the family home in Boston's neighborhood of Mattapan. "In spirit, we are confident, we believe in God and we know that our God is active and is real and is gonna intervene on our behalf."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.