* Release secured after talks with tribal elders
* Oil firms face soaring security bills since Algerian siege
* Egyptian security has deteriorated since the revolution
By Alexander Dziadosz and Sylvia Westall
CAIRO, March 7 Bedouin gunmen in Egypt's Sinai
Peninsula seized and briefly held the country boss of U.S. oil
major ExxonMobil and his wife on Thursday, in an attack that
highlights increasing risks oil firms face across North Africa
and the Middle East.
Exxon said Andy Wills, chairman and managing
director of its Egypt and Cyprus operations, and his wife were
The British couple were seized when they stopped to change
money in Ras es-Sidr, 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Cairo,
while driving to a Sinai beach resort, Egyptian security sources
said. The couple were held for several hours before being handed
over to the army after negotiations with tribal elders.
"ExxonMobil confirms that the chairman and managing director
of ExxonMobil Egypt and Cyprus and his wife are safe and
unharmed after being held briefly earlier today," Exxon
spokesman Alan Jeffers said.
Security has become a top concern for oil companies as they
face soaring bills to strengthen defences against militants
following a siege at an Algerian gas plant in January in which
dozens of foreign workers were killed.
Since that siege, security incidents have hit a field in
Iraq operated by Russian oil firm Lukoil, where local
residents descended on facilities to demand jobs, and a gas
plant in Libya jointly owned by Italy's ENI, where
clashes between rival militias halted work.
Oil firms say they have strengthened security in North
Africa following the Algerian hostage drama, including in Egypt.
Security has deteriorated in Egypt's isolated Sinai desert
region since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in a
popular uprising two years ago.
Thursday's gunmen demanded the release of four prisoners
held in Alexandria on charges of arms smuggling, the Egyptian
security sources said. It was not immediately clear whether they
were aware of the identity of their captives.
South Sinai's Red Sea coast is a major tourism area for
Egypt. Other tourists have been held briefly by tribesmen in
recent months and released unharmed, often after just a few
hours of negotiations with authorities.
Bedouin have attacked police stations, blocked access to
towns and taken hostages to show their discontent with what they
see as their poor treatment by Cairo and to press for the
release of jailed kinsmen.
Two American women were kidnapped in Sinai in February last
year but Egyptian authorities negotiated their release a few
Two other U.S. tourists were kidnapped in late May that
year, and two more U.S. tourists in July. The captives were
released within days in both incidents.
Exxon has more than 350 petrol stations in Egypt and says it
exports lubricants and products from Egypt to more than 25
countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Far East.