Six Egyptian Copts were freed this week after being kidnapped in Libya several weeks ago, the Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday.
According to ministry statements, the abductees were members of the same family from Sohag governorate and had entered eastern Libya by land with official travel and work permits.
After travelling from Benghazi to Zawiya, a city to the west of the capital Tripoli, they were kidnapped and held for ransom.
The Egyptian embassy contacted Libyan authorities who assisted in securing their release.
Cairo supports the dismantling of militia groups in Libya and the unification of the military and security establishments as an essential step towards restoring stability in the country.
Unfortunately, political polarisation and institutional bifurcation between the east and west continues to have a destabilising effect.
Egypt is working closely with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and Libya’s neighbours to resolve the problem: recently, Cairo hosted the Joint Military Commission (JMC 5+5), a body formed to address the security/military track of the UN-sponsored peace process for Libya, and participants reaffirmed their commitment to efforts to achieve stability in Egypt’s western neighbour.
Libyan sources stress the need to differentiate between criminal gangs and militia factions operating in Libya. Gangs engage in smuggling operations, including human trafficking, illegal migration and weapons smuggling, and periodically kidnap Egyptian workers and hold them for ransom, sources told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The disruption and destabilisation caused by the proliferation of militia factions helps generate an environment in which organised crime can thrive.
Arms smuggling operations continue to pose a threat to Egypt, even though terrorist organisations have been eliminated from eastern Libya. Libyan security agencies in the eastern city of Tobruk recently confiscated sophisticated weapons that were about to be smuggled into Egypt via Jaboub oasis.
Brigadier General Sami Idris, the director of Tobruk Security, told reporters that the captured weapons were “not of the usual type, such as rifles and machine guns, that circulate among individuals” but were the kind of arms “usually used by terrorist organisations”.
Egyptian members of a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda were among the terrorist organisations that had established bases in eastern Libya. They frequently attempted to smuggle arms to terrorist organisation in Egypt, particularly those operating in North Sinai.
The JMC, whose meeting in Cairo coincided with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s announcement that terrorism had been beaten in Sinai, is focussed on efforts to stabilise the situation in southern Libya.
The meeting was attended by representatives from Sudan, Chad, and Niger.
While successive security operations have largely succeeded in eliminating terrorist groups from eastern and western Libya, the south continues to pose a challenge.
Rebel movements from the three countries operate out of southern Libya, and the area continues to serve as a base for cross border terrorism, smuggling and other illegal operations. Participants at the meeting agreed to establish a joint intelligence exchange mechanism to address the problems.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly