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Egypt seeks release of Boston pastor abducted by Bedouin

Updated at 11:15 a.m. ET: Egypt is working with U.S. Embassy officials to secure the release of 61-year-old Boston pastor Rev. Michel Louis and two others who were abducted while on a church trip to the Middle East, U.S. officials told NBC News on Sunday.

The son of Louis told The Associated Press that his father was on a church trip to retrace Jesus' steps through the Holy Land with 23 other members of the clergy and worshippers when he was abducted. Along with him, a 39-year-old Boston woman in the group and a tour guide were kidnapped Friday.

The AP said an Egyptian Bedouin, Jirmy Abu-Masuh, was the captor – and that he was demanding police release his uncle from prison. It reported Abu-Masuh vowed to take more hostages of different nationalities if his demands were not met.

Gov. Gen. Tayeb Mabrouk of North Sinai said Sunday authorities are seeking to get the kidnapper's uncle released in exchange for the freedom of the three hostages, accoeding to NBC News. The kidnapper has refused to negotiate with three tribal Bedouin chiefs until his uncle is freed. He gave a 24-hour deadline to release his uncle but authorities have asked for more time, NBC News reported. The hostages are fine and being treated as guests, the kidnapper told authorities.

North Sinai authorities have been given orders by the ministry of interior to resolve the situation. 

Rev. Jean Louis said 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. "He's a diabetic, so we'd like the person that, or the people that have him in captivity, to know that. We're just concerned for his health. But we know that the governments are working very hard negotiating."

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy told NBC News it was in close touch with the Egyptian authorities as negotiations continue, and that Egypt was “working hard to resolve the situation and bringing about a safe release of the hostages.”

The abduction took place along the road linking Cairo to the sixth-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 Louis family gathered at the elder pastor's home Saturday to pray and comfort each other. The elder Louis is pastor of the Free Pentecostal Church of God.

"We have a little command center, crisis command center inside and we are trying our best to do what we can do and be very calm in our action also," Louis said. "... we have some good people that are praying for us across the country, across the world ... we thank everybody that's working on our behalf."

Abu-Masuh, of the Tarbeen tribe in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, told the AP that 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.

But Abu-Masuh insists that police release his 62-year-old uncle, who he said suffers from back and heart problems and diabetes. He said his uncle was arrested a week ago after refusing to pay a bribe to police who stopped him along the way.

NBC News' Charlene Gubash and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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