Four Coptic Christians, including a child, who were kidnapped on Monday in the Egyptian town of Manfalout in Assiut, have returned home safely after a ransom was paid, according to the independent Cairo newspaper Watani.
The kidnappers initally demanded a ransom of EGP 500,000 (£45,000) or else they would kill the Copts, the paper said. This was eventually negotiated down to EGP 150,000 (£13,000) which was paid during a successful exchange.
One of the victims' relatives, who asked not to be named, told Watani that the Assiut security deputy chief had advised him to pay the ransom money in order to ensure the safety of the kidnapped Copts, adding that once the kidnappers were later caught the money would be found and returned to those who paid it.
Watani reported that two of the kidnap victims, the brothers Emad and Ramy Lamei, who work as construction workers in Cairo, had received a phone call offering them a job in Assiut.
They went to Assiut where they sought directions to the site in the town of Zarayeb al-Ooussiya from relatives living in the area.
A relative, Marzouq Ashamallah, reportedly offered them a ride to get there, and his nine-year-old son Amir came along.
But before the four reached their destination, armed men blocked the road, kidnapped them at gunpoint, and took the car.
The Copts' relative told Watani that on the same day his family received a phone call made on one of the kidnapped Copts' mobile phones, asking for the ransom money.
The kidnapper said that if the police were to intervene the kidnapped men and boy would be killed.
The family therefore refrained from filing a police report, but informally sought the advice of the Assiut Security Deputy Chief.
Later, the kidnappers again called the family who negotiated the ransom money, bringing it down to EGP 200,000 (£17,700).
The family, who are not wealthy, then negotiated the ransom down further. After a ransom of EGP 150,000 was paid, the four Copts who were kidnapped some 350km south of Cairo, were safely released last night.
A first attempt to hand the money over failed when the kidnappers discovered that police were close by and shot at them, Watani said.
However, a second attempt succeeded. The kidnappers asked to be paid at a site near Deir Muwwas in Minya in the north of the country, and used Ashamallah's car to get there. This time there was no police intervention, and the four Copts were set free.
One of those freed, Emad Lamei, said: "We were caught and blindfolded and taken to a place we don't know on the mountain east of Assiut."
Watani reported that the eastern Assiut mountain is a desolate area notorious for outlaws who hide from police in its caves.
Lamei said that they were chained and forced to put their faces to the ground. They were all beaten, he added, except the child.
The police are investigating.
Egypt has an estimated population of nine million Christians, the majority of whom are Othodox Copts.