Two hostages from Massachusetts were released by their Egyptian captor Monday after a diplomatic flurry by American and Egyptian officials, ending a three-day ordeal and triggering relieved celebrations by the families at home.
The Rev. Michel Louis of Dorchester and Lissa Alphonse of Everett were taken hostage Friday by an Egyptian Bedouin demanding the release of his uncle, who he said had been incarcerated for failing to pay a bribe to Egyptian police.
As the news of their release arrived, Louis’s Talbot Avenue home erupted in joyful singing. Shortly after speaking to their father on the telephone, four of Louis’s children held an impromptu press conference on the front steps.
“He told us that he loved us, he’s safe, and he’s coming home,” said his son, Nathaniel Louis.
Jean Louis, another of the pastor’s children, said: “We’re exuberant. We believe in God, and let me tell you, he did not let us down.”
In Everett, Yves Donald Alphonse said he was told that his wife had been treated as a guest of the captors, but the 42-year-old father of two expressed serious concern for his wife’s emotional health.
“For sure, she’s not OK,” Alphonse said. “Her mind will need some major help.”
Louis, who is pastor of Eglise de Dieu de la Pentecote Libre, the Free Pentecostal Church of God in Dorchester, and Alphonse had been part of a group of about two dozen Haitian and Haitian-American churchgoers from Greater Boston who had been traveling in the Sinai Peninsula on their way to Israel. Their local guide was also kidnapped.
Louis, 61, and Alphonse, 39, appear uninjured in photographs taken after their release at the North Sinai security headquarters in the Egyptian city of El-Arish.
General Ahmed Bakr, head of Egyptian security in North Sinai, said the two Americans and their Egyptian tour guide were now under the protection of Egyptian security officials in Sinai, the Associated Press reported.
State Department spokeswoman Beth Gosselin confirmed the release of the captives and thanked Egyptian authorities for their assistance, but would not comment further.
The kidnapper, Jirmy Abu-Masuh, said he freed them after officials promised they would work on releasing his uncle from prison, according to the Associated Press.
He said that he wanted to grant them mercy, because they had nothing to do with his dispute with police.
During a church service Sunday at Jubilee Christian Church, the Rev. Mathew K. Thompson, a friend of the Louis family, reported that when the captor boarded the church group’s bus and tried to seize a woman, Alphonse, Louis tried to persuade the man to let him go in her place.
“Take me,” Louis said, according to Thompson.
The captor took them both, along with the group’s local guide-translator, identified by the AP as Haytham Ragab.
The group, which was on a tour of the Holy Land, was on its way to the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai when the abductions occurred.
“We’re relieved he has been released, but we’re also proud,” said Bishop Gideon Thompson of Jubilee Christian Church, a friend of the family who was serving as a spokesman. “Pastor Louis got in this jam because he was a standup guy. Today we can celebrate a great local hero that wouldn’t back down.”
At a service Monday night at Pentecote Libre, at least 70 people gathered to celebrate Louis’s release. Around 6:30, four women from the congregation began dancing on the sidewalk, crying out, “God is great.”
“I am so happy. Everyone in the church is so happy,” said one of the women. “God bless America.”
Later, a woman driving by the church slowed down and called out, “I praise God with you.”
Two members of the Facebook group Egyptians in Boston came to the church to offer a bouquet of flowers to the Louis family. Hesham Hamoda, an attending psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital Boston, and Adham Abdel Mottalib, a research fellow at Joslin Diabetes Joslin Diabetes Center, brought roses, daisies, and sunflowers.
We wanted to carry a message that Egyptians are a very friendly people,” Mottalib said.
Inside the church, parishioners, family, and well-wishers of all ages sang and clapped along with joyful songs of praise.
Jean Louis addressed the crowd: “God has proven himself to be a miracle worker.”
He asked the congregants, some of whom had been singing for hours, if they were too tired to continue, and they said no. Louis challenged them to continue celebrating.
“We’re going to make noise up until his plane lands in Boston,” he said.
Augustus Richard Norton, a Boston University professor and Middle East specialist, said that such kidnappings are common among individuals with grudges against the government, and they usually end with release.
“These sorts of kidnappings are not anything like the horrible events that occur in Iraq and Lebanon,” Norton said. “In the Bedoin culture, there’s a strong tradition of hospitality. When they hold people, they tend to treat them well.”
The AP reported that Egyptian officials and heads of tribes met with the kidnapper for several hours Monday before an agreement was reached.
Both families credited US Senator Scott Brown for his role in securing the release.
“He made this happen,” said Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a family friend who was with the family when Brown’s office called about 1 p.m. with the news that the captives were safe.
“Everyone’s prayers have been answered,” Brown said in a release. “This is an emotional day for the families and all their supporters in Massachusetts.”
US Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, had worked since Friday to get the Americans released, his office said in a statement.
“What began as a sightseeing tour turned into an unimaginable nightmare for these Massachusetts families and thank God that nightmare is coming to an end,” Kerry said in his statement.
Louis’s relatives said they had no details on circumstances of the release or any timetable for their father’s return.
“We didn’t even ask him those questions,” said his son, Daniel Louis. “All we asked him was is he OK. He said, yes, he is on his way home.”
Meanwhile, in Everett, Yves Donald Alphonse said the ordeal has been tough on his children. He said that when he told his 10-year-old daughter about the kidnapping, she was “devastated,” and does not yet believe that her mother is coming back.
“For three days, three nights, it’s been hard,” Alphonse said. “I don’t know how to explain it to them.”