Sadness Overshadows Christmas for Families of Egyptian Christians Kidnapped in Libya
By Todd Daniels with ICC’s Egypt Representative
12/21/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) It has been nearly four months, and still there has been no news of the fate of four Egyptian Christians who were taken off a bus as they returned to Egypt from working in Libya. The families have attempted to press the Egyptian government to seek the fate of the four men, but no steps have been taken, leaving the families heart-broken. They are just a few of the families of Christians who are suffering as a result of targeting by extremists groups in Libya.
“Why did they take my son?”
On August 25, Gamal Matta Hakim, Raafat Matta Hakim, Romany Matta Hakim, and their cousin, Adel Sedky Hakim boarded a microbus to travel back to Egypt. As they made their way past Sirte, Libya the bus was stopped by militants from Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamic extremist group. As ICC previously reported, the militants took the four Christians off the bus and forced the driver to continue on with the three other Muslim passengers.
“My husband had left us and traveled to Libya to work there for saving money from us to meet our needs because he didn’t find work here,” Manal, 28, the wife of Gamal told ICC.
“More than three months have passed since the kidnapping of my husband and still we don’t know anything about him. We don’t know if he is still alive or if the captors killed him. My children ask me every day, ‘When will our father come back? We have missed him so much.’ I answer them with tears and say he will return back soon, God willing and ask them to pray to God for his safe return,” Manal said.
Sedky Hakim, father of Adel, expressed his sadness to ICC, asking, “What did my son do to be taken captive? Why did they take him? He didn’t do anything wrong to anyone. He had traveled there to work hard and struggle to save money for us.”
The Ansar al-Sharia group has been active in much of the fighting across Libya. On November 19, the United Nations Security Council added the group to its terrorist list and enacted sanctions against the group to attempt to restrict funds and arms from reaching them, Al Arabiya reported.
The Al-Qaeda affiliated group has as its aim implementing a strict version of Islamic law across Libya. They were implicated in the 2012 attack in Benghazi that killed the U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In response, the U.S. State Department also specifically labeled them as a distinct terrorist entity January 10, 2014.
Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya has repeatedly shown their intention to directly target Christians in Libya.
A Bounty On the Heads of Christians
The four men taken off the microbus is just one of a troubling number of incidents that have targeted Christians in Libya. Below is just a sampling of recent events targeting Egyptian Christians.
The day after the four were kidnapped in Sirte, Mina Shehata Awad was also on a bus trying to leave Libya. He had worked there for five years as a carpenter and was on his way home for the final time, Hany, Mina’s brother told ICC.
“Mina is my best friend,” Mustafa Mahmoud, a Muslim worker who was on the bus with Mina, told ICC. “On August 26, on our way to Egypt by a microbus, a group of masked gunmen wearing Libyan military clothes in a checkpoint in Site city stopped our microbus. They asked all the 27 passengers in the microbus to show them their passports, and when they read the name of Mina in his passport they said to him, ‘You are Christian.’ Mina answered, ‘Yes I’m Christian.’ They then ordered the Mina to get out of the microbus, and asked the driver to take the rest of the passengers and leave,” he told ICC.
“We said to them why did you take him, and we begged them to let him go with us, but they threatened us with their weapons and ordered us to leave. The driver took us and fled, leaving Mina with the gunmen,” Mustafa recounted.
In February, seven Christian workers were dragged out of their apartment building before being driven out of town and executed. Antar Nashed Boles, the brother of one of those who was killed told ICC, “When I was in Libya, I saw written phrases on the walls of the housing buildings in Benghazi, “A reward of 10,000 Libyan Dinar ($7,600 USD) to anyone who informs about a Christian.”
These kinds of threats make the situation extremely dangerous for those who are living in Libya, but for many of them there seems to be no way of escape.
No Clear Answers
Yousry R.B., who is still working in Tripoli told ICC, “The situation has becomes so difficult for us here in Libya. I want to return back to Egypt but I cannot find any safe way to travel to Egypt. The airport of Tripoli was destroyed and there isn’t any flight to Egypt, and traveling by car is unsafe especially for us (Christians) because we are targeted by Ansar Al-Sharia. And I’m afraid that my fate will be the same fate of my captive cousins if I travel by land.”
Wagih and Mousa Hakim, brothers of three of the four taken by Ansar Al-Sharia, have been pressing the government for answers to what is happening. “On August 27, I went to the foreign ministry and the Libyan Embassy in Cairo and reported the situation, and from this moment up till now, I haven’t received any response from any one,” Wagih told ICC.
Mousa said, “We sent by fax many complaints to the president, the prosecutor, Defense minister, Interior minister and human rights organization asking them to help us to find our captives but none of them has answered us till now.”
“The situation is extremely difficult to all the Egyptian Christian workers in Libya right now and we try to find a safe way for them to return back to Egypt immediately,” Mousa continued.
For now there seems to be no clear answer for how Christians can safely leave the country to return back to Egypt. There are also no clear answers about the fate of those who’ve been taken, leaving hurting families searching for answers.
“I don’t know how my children, Maria and Makari, and I will spend the coming Christmas without my husband with us,” Mariam, 24, Raafat’s wife told ICC. “It will be a very sad Christmas for us, and we cannot celebrate it without my beloved husband.”
“I appeal to God to make a miracle and release him from the hands of those bad captors and come back to us soon to celebrate Christmas together.”