Egypt Pulse

How will Egypt protect its expats in Libya from IS?

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Article Summary
The killing and abduction of a number of Egyptian expats in Libya prompted the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to issue warnings not to travel there because of the inability of the Libyan state to provide protection for the Egyptians amid its prevailing state of insecurity and instability.

CAIRO — Egyptian public prosecutor Nabil Sadek ordered Aug. 5 the urgent referral of 11 defendants, including four Libyans, to the National Security Court (NSC). They were accused of spying for members of the Islamic State (IS) in Libya with the aim of committing terrorist crimes against Egyptians in Libya.

Sadek said in a statement on Aug. 5 that the investigations conducted by the public prosecutor's office confirmed the defendants abducted and tortured Egyptian expats to obtain a ransom from their relatives for their release. They also committed the crimes of spying and supplying IS with money and information, and human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

The same statement pointed out that the prosecution office with the NSC has launched its investigation into the findings of the National Security Agency. According to these findings released Aug. 5, defendant Mohamed Ragab Abdel Wahed Hassan, of Egyptian nationality, was found to have worked with Bedouin groups to smuggle Egyptians through the country’s western border into Libya.

Hassan was also accused of collaborating with members of IS in Libya, namely Libyan defendants Imad Ahmed Abdul Salam al-Warfali, Muftah Ahmed Abdul Salam al-Warfali, Ayad Ahmed Abdul Salam al-Warfali and Marwan al-Ghareeb. He allegedly provided them with information from within the country about Egyptians travelers and expats in Libya.

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The investigations carried out by the prosecution office with the NSC also revealed Hassan frequently visited Libya, ostensibly for work purposes, where he contacted the accused Libyan IS members and agreed to kidnap an Egyptian expat for a large ransom. He was also complicit in the kidnapping and torture of 13 Egyptians at the beginning of 2017. IS members tortured the kidnapped Egyptians and threatened to kill them if their relatives didn't pay ransoms of up to 6,500 Libyan dinars ($4,600) per person. The ransoms were not paid, and in coordination with the General Command of the Libyan army, the Egyptian army freed the hostages and returned them to Egypt in February 2017.

On Feb. 15, 2015, IS in Libya beheaded 21 Coptic Egyptians on the Libyan coast in Sirte. It broadcast a video showing the operation titled "A message signed in blood to the nation of the cross."

On Jan. 5, 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had commissioned a "crisis cell" to pursue contacts with Libyan parties to secure the release of these Egyptians abducted in Libya.

On May 9, 2018, IS members detained 21 Egyptians who entered Libya illegally in search of work. They were kept in an underground cave in the middle of the Libyan desert, beaten and brutally tortured on a daily basis. They were stripped of their clothes and tied with ropes — all to get a financial ransom in exchange for their release.

Judge Hisham Samir, the assistant public prosecutor, said in a telephone interview with Al-Monitor that investigations found Hassan and six other Egyptians were mainly involved in coordinating with IS members in Libya to kidnap Egyptian expats searching for work there and torture and demand ransom from their relatives. The crimes occurred between 2015 and 2018. 

He said the investigation concluded the involvement of these defendants in the torture, kidnapping and collaboration with terrorist members, which was confirmed by Hassan’s confessions and the statements of a number of Egyptian victims in Libya.

Samir said the Egyptian public prosecutor's office is following this case very seriously and coordinating with the Libyan authorities to arrest the four Libyan suspects (who were convicted in absentia), extradite them to Egypt and then prosecute them.

Brig. Gen. Khaled Okasha, director of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, said that referring to trial the 11 suspects accused of collaborating with IS operatives reveals the extent to which Egyptian security forces and prosecutors have succeeded in finding and identifying the perpetrators of kidnapping and torture of Egyptian expats in Libya.

“The deterioration of the security situation in Libya and the killing and kidnapping of a number of Egyptian expats prompted the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to issue Aug. 23, 2016, warnings against traveling to Libya,” Okasha told Al-Monitor. He said the ministry cited the inability of the Libyan state to provide protection to Egyptian expats as a result of insecurity and instability.

Okasha said Egyptian authorities have facilitated the departure from Libya of Egyptian expats with transportation and by opening the Salloum crossing for them. Just 10 days after the beheading of the Copts in 2015, more than 20,000 Egyptians had left Libya. No official estimates are currently available on the number of Egyptians in Libya.

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Found in: Islamic State

Ahmed Youness is an Egyptian writer and journalist covering foreign and regional affairs. He writes for a variety of regional media outlets, including Al-Hayat, Aawsat and Raseef22. 

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