(Ecumenical News) - Egyptian police have rescued four Copts who were kidnapped while on their way from a pilgrimage site in Minya province.
Authorities raided an isolated farmhouse in the mountainous area not far from the city of Salamut where the victims were taken away by armed gunmen, the Catholic Fides news agency reported.
Police tracked down the hideout of the kidnappers, who demanded ransom from the victims' families of 600,000 Egyptian pounds ($79,000), at the village of Akoris.
The raiding team stormed the kidnappers' safe house around dawn May 20, and a firefight ensued between authorities and the criminals. Some of the kidnappers managed to escape.
Police found the victims shackled with chains at the farm, and saw indications that they had been tortured by their captors, who waited for ransom to be paid.
The victims said the kidnappers constantly threatened to kill them if their families refused to pay ransom.
Some of the victims even suffered physical abuse as the kidnappers beat them up while waiting for the families to give into their demands.
Three of the victims were adults with ages ranging from 20 to 35 years, while the fourth was a five-year-old child.
The victims had come from the Church of the Virgin Mary in Jabal al-Tair, which was built around 328 A.D. on the orders of Queen Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine.
The church is one of the most popular Marian shrines frequented by the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.
But in Upper Egypt, kidnapping Copts has seemed to be a fledging business as far as criminals are concerned.
Copts have paid more than 120 million Egyptian pounds to kidnappers from January 2011 to December 2014 in Minya, according to estimates of Mina Thabet, founder of the Popular Initiative Party.