Al Jazeera's Amr el-Kahky, reporting from Cairo, Egypt's capital, said that an official from Egypt's southern al-Wadi al-Jadid governorate, said the other people seized were seven Egyptians, five Germans and one Romanian.

"This is a gang act [by] masked men," Zoheir Garrana, the Egyptian tourism minister, said, adding that talks were under way on a ransom to release the abductees.

Mustapha Tawfiq, chief of police in the southern city of Aswan, told state television that four men abducted the group near Gilf el-Kabir, an uninhabited region near the borders with Libya and Sudan.

Egyptian sources said the kidnappers had asked for between four and six million dollars in ransom, although it was not possible to confirm the sum.

Police protection

Timeline


Tourist attacks in Egypt

Al Jazeera's El-Kahky said that it was believed the victims were taken to northern Sudan across Egypt's border.

"The south of the country has been very safe, we haven't seen such events in the past few years," he said.

"The last time something like this happened was in 1997, but the country's south has been very safe and every tourist convoy is escorted by policemen."

Garrana confirmed that the hostages "had been moved outside the Egyptian borders".

Israel denied that any of its nationals were among those kidnapped.

"According to our sources, there were no Israelis," Ygal Palmor, the foreign ministry spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

Earlier this month, Israel warned its citizens of a "very high" risk of kidnapping or attacks if they travel to Jordan or Egypt, the only two Arab countries which have made peace with the Jewish state.

Jewish holiday

The warning came just weeks before Jewish New Year holiday, which is marked this year on September 30 and October 1, when thousands of Israelis usually flock to Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

In 1997, at least 58 people were killed in Egypt when armed men opened fire on foreign tourists in the ancient temple city of Luxor, just north of Aswan.

More recently there was a spate of attacks in resorts on the Red Sea in the Sinai peninsula.

In April 2006, 20 people were killed in bomb blasts in Dahab, while 70 were killed in Sharm el-Sheikh in July 2005 and 34 people were killed in Taba in October 2004.