Twelve Coptic Christians kidnapped in Libya reported released

Altogether, at least 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya have been kidnapped within the last few days with 13 of the Egyptians working in Libya being taken by masked gunmen on Saturday in the city of Sirte.

The gunmen went from room to room in a residence for the workers at 2:30 a.m. They asked for identification papers so that they could separate out the Christians from the Muslims. The Christians were handcuffed and taken away. Witness Hanna Aziz, told the Associated Press: "They were 15 armed and masked men who came in four vehicles. They had a list of full names of Christians in the building. While checking IDs, Muslims were left aside while Christians were grabbed. I heard my friends screaming, but they were quickly shushed at gunpoint. After that, we heard nothing. I am still in my room waiting for them to take me. I want to die with them." Aziz said he survived the raid because he did not open his door.

 A few days earlier another seven Coptic Christian workers from Egypt had been abducted as they tried to flee Sirte. Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, met with Coptic Church officials on Saturday as efforts were being made to solve the crisis. A formal diplomatic mission to rescue Egyptian workers would be problematic since Sirte is not under control of the internationally recognized government. Much of the country including the city of Sirte is controlled by the competing government in Tripoli.

 Since Egypt has been supportive of the Libyan army drive against anti-government militas, Egyptian workers have become targets for revenge especially the minority Coptic Christians. There are hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers both Christian and Muslim who work in Libya. Some suspect the radical Islamic group Ansar al-Sharia to be behind the kidnapping although they have not claimed responsibility. Bloomberg reports that the kidnappings bring the total number of Coptics taken since last week to be at least 21. On December 23rd a Coptic couple were also found dead in Sirte. Mina Thabet, a researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms said: “It’s definitely religiously-motivated. Egyptian Christians are caught up in the middle of sectarian violence and chaos in Libya.”

A recent report from the BBC would indicate that the kidnapping was not actually religiously motivated and negotiations with the kidnappers have obtained their release. Ansar al-Sharia were apparently not involved at all: Muftah Marzuq, head of the council of elders in the coastal city of Sirte, said the men were released after negotiations between the gunmen and local officials."The Egyptians were held by a group that deals in illegal people smuggling, because of a dispute involving money and transportation to the Harawa region east of Sirte," Mr Marzuq told reporters.


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