The families of Egyptians abducted in Libya complain that, three weeks later, they still don’t have any information on the victims, maintaining that the state has not provided anything beyond promises of their return.
In a press conference held on Monday at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the families of the hostages and some of those who have been released recounted their dilemma.
Malaak Ghattas, the brother of one of the abducted, said that he received a phone call from his brother on December 29 at 1 pm telling him that he had already started his trip back to Egypt from the city of Sirt in East Libya. 50 minutes later, he received another phone call from his brother telling him that he was abducted by Ansar al-Sharia militants along with six others. The phones of the seven hostages were then turned off.
Ghattas, who was in Sirt at the time, says that he asked some tribal leaders and influential figures in the local community to mediate with the group to secure the release of the hostages, and that he would be willing to pay ransom if necessary. However, Ansar al-Sharia said that they were not responsible for the abduction.
Ghattas then contacted the driver who was transporting the hostages, who told him that six armed men in six cars blocked the road between the cities of Marada and Zella and abducted the seven Egyptians. Ghattas was skeptical because the distance between the spot that the driver identified and Sirt, in his estimate, could not have been covered in an hour.
After reaching out to different Libyan sides, Ghattas says he was in communication with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, which allegedly did not respond. Several of the families of the abducted had contacted the Foreign Ministry shortly after the incident as well, also to no avail.
Ghattas was among several Egyptians who returned from Libya after the abduction, with most smuggled across the borders. Akram Abdel Sayed, one of those who had been smuggled back into his home country, said that the Egyptian state did not intervene to secure their return, which left them with no option other than illegal smuggling.
Five days after the incident, 13 Egyptians were abducted from their houses in the city of Sirt. Aziz Hanna, the uncle of one of the hostages, who was present during one said abduction, recounts that on January 4, a number of armed men stormed the house and started looking for Coptic Christians. Aziz adds that the armed men inspected the passports of the hostages before leaving the house to ensure that they were Copts. Aziz escaped the abduction by hiding out in his room, before hiding out with Libyan acquaintances until he was able to return to Egypt.
Moussa Matta tells a similar story. Matta says that three of his brothers, as well as his cousin, were abducted on their way from Tripoli to Sirt by armed militias. Militants inspected their passports and abducted the Copts only. Matta said that he was ready to pay ransom but could not identify the abductors.
Following his return to Egypt, Matta was advised by the Foreign Ministry to be discreet about the incident to protect the lives of the hostages, which prompted him to remain silent for the last five months. However, in light of the ministry’s failure to solve the case or provide any information regarding his relatives or their abductors, he decided to go public.
The families all say that during their meetings with Foreign Ministry officials they received nothing but promises of their relatives’ release. They allege that the state did not offer any information beyond assertions that they are in communication with all the relevant sides.
Andrawos Fayez, the relative of one of the hostages asks, “If the state was able to free the five diplomats that were abducted by armed militias, why can’t they free our children?”
In January of last year, five Egyptian diplomats were abducted in Libya. The Egyptian government secured their release through an exchange, releasing Shaaban Hedeya, the head of the militant group Libya Operations Room.
“If there are deals offered, take them, if there are demands for the release of Libyan detainees, release them, our children are more important. Just like the government cares about its men, we care about our children too,” Fayez adds.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State had recently taken responsibility for the abduction of twenty Egyptians and published their pictures. Youm7 released a statement yesterday by the Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson, Badr Abdel Atty, in which he says that Yasser Reda, the deputy Foreign Minister, met with families of the abducted and asserted that a crisis group is following the situation and working with different Libyan sides to preserve the lives of Egyptians there. He asked them to remain patient throughout this delicate situation and advised those who remain in tense areas in Libya to relocate or return to Egypt. He also advised their relatives not to travel to Libya in these conditions.
Mina Thabet, who handles issues of religious minorities in the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, demanded that Egyptian and Libyan authorities secure Egyptian workers in Libya and create a secure path for them to return to Egypt. He also said that the authorities have to start enforcing compensation policies for Egyptians who had to flee from Libya, leaving all their possessions and savings behind.
Thabet says that because of the continuously developing political conflict in Libya, it’s not possible to identify the dangerous areas in the country. He says Benghazi was dangerous for Egyptians in the past, then Tripoli and now Sirt, asserting that the situation changes depending on the groups in conflict. He adds that the trends detected in the stories told by the families shows that there is an intentional targeting of Copts.
The last two years witnessed an increase in the targeting of Egyptians, and especially Copts, in Libya. A Coptic church in the city of Misrata was bombed in December 2012, followed by several incidents of murder and abduction of Egyptians residing in Libya.