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By Alexander Smith, Vivi Vitalone and Alanna Satur
An American tourist and her local driver have been kidnapped by gunmen in Uganda, local officials said Wednesday.
An elite police unit was deployed to hunt for the pair after they were ambushed while on safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park on Tuesday night, according to the Ugandan government and police.
Local police and the national tourist board identified the American woman as Kimberly Sue, 35. Investigators said the driver’s name was Jean Paul.
The assailants used one of the victims’ cellphones to call authorities and demand $500,000 for their release, police said, adding that they “strongly believe this ransom is the reason behind the kidnap.”
At least two other people, named by police as Martin and Barbel Julius, were traveling with the group near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.
The four kidnappers abducted the American and the driver, taking their keys but leaving the vehicle behind, according to police. The others in the vehicle escaped unharmed and later contacted authorities. The government earlier said that four people had escaped the incident.
Police said they have blocked the nearby border in an attempt to corner the kidnappers.
“We strongly believe the perpetrators and victims could still be trapped within our search area,” police said. “We are hopeful that our efforts will lead to their successful recovery.”
NBC News has reached out to the State Department for comment.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. It is home to elephants, hippos, lions and chimps.