Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Kidnapped workers released

Twenty-three Egyptians held by an armed group in Libya have been freed. Mohamed Abdel-Baki reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Thursday 11 August 23 Egyptians, kidnapped by an armed group in Libya, were freed.

An official told Al-Ahram Weekly the workers were returning to Egypt when a group of armed men stopped their bus near Misrata.

“They used three cars to stop the bus in a remote area. Then armed men took the workers to a mountainous area where the Libyan authorities have little control,” the official said.

There are suspicions the bus driver taking the 23 workers to the Egyptian border may have helped in planning the kidnapping by giving their travel information to the militia.

“The kidnapping happened on Friday 5August.  Egyptian authorities worked with their Libyan counterparts to find where the workers had been taken. Information obtained by the Libyan Special Forces revealed the militia intended to transfer the kidnapped men to a location close to Brega. Within hours the bus had been located and the workers released.”

The source added that the operation involved coordination between Egyptian intelligence and local powerbrokers.

“President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi followed the whole operation himself and ordered the government to use all the resources at its disposal to free the workers and ensure they returned safely to Egypt.”

Last year the government warned citizens to avoid travelling to Libya after 20 Egyptian migrants were murdered by a local affiliate of Daesh near Derna. 

The freed workers told Al-Ahram Weekly they had no idea who the armed men were though it was clear that they had contacts in Egypt who contacted the men’s families demanding a ransom.

“For three days they beat us. We were held in a tiny room and were given little food or water,” said 31-year-old Gomaa Kamel. 

State TV aired footage on 12 August of the workers crossing the border waving Egyptian flags.

Emad Abdel-Latif, 44, believes the kidnappers planned to hand the group to another militia in Brega who would kill the men if the Egyptian government failed to pay the ransom being demanded.

“After we were freed we were guarded by Libyan Special Forces at houses belonging to the Bokmad family, one of the biggest in Brega. We stayed there for two days before being transferred to the Salloum border crossing,” he said.

Abdel-Latif arrived in Libya two years ago looking for work and found a job at a small factory. This is the first time he has returned to Egypt.

MP Hatem Bashat, head of parliament’s African Affairs Committee, told the Weekly that parliamentarians were working with the ministries of Migration and Foreign Affairs to help hundreds of thousands of Egyptians return from Libya.

“We are working on several levels. We are also trying to stop the gangs that facilitate illegal travel to Libya and are targeting governorates, like Fayyoum, from where the majority of those who travel to Libya come.”

Egypt’s General Consul to Libya Amr Farouk Al-Bayoumi told the Weekly that more than half a million Egyptians are thought to be working in Libya. Most of them come from poor villages and arrived looking for jobs. The vast majority are employed as day labourers and farm workers.

“Since July 2015 till now we have transported 60,000 Egyptians by air from Tunisia to Egypt. The Egyptian state shouldered the entire cost, from their arrival at Ras Ajdir, the border crossing on the Tunisian border, until their return to Egypt,” he said.

The Egyptian consular office on the Libyan-Tunisian border works with local contacts across Libya to follow up on the Egyptian community’s problems. The consular office has also worked to repatriate the bodies of hundreds of Egyptians.

“Just as there are militias in Libya, there are also honourable citizens, tribal leader and city notables who work to resolve difficulties for Egyptians. We are in constant contact with these people and with their help we’ve been able to secure the release of many detained Egyptians and resolve other problems facing the Egyptian community in Libya’s towns and cities,” said Al-Bayoumi.

The security situation in Libya has deteriorated rapidly over the last 18 months as government forces and Islamists battle for control of the country’s towns and cities.

Forces loyal to Libya’s national unity government are currently engaged in a fierce battle with Daesh terrorists for control of the city of Sirte

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