Tunisians kidnapped in Libya return home after rescue

Their successful release was described as a victory for Tunisia, demonstrating its effective security cooperation with Libya and proving that it "will not submit to kidnappers’ demands.”
Tuesday 19/02/2019
A screengrab from Tunisian channel Mosaique FM shows one of the fourteen Tunisian kidnapping victims upon their return home from Libya. (Youtube)
A screengrab from Tunisian channel Mosaique FM shows one of the fourteen Tunisian kidnapping victims upon their return home from Libya. (Youtube)

TUNIS - Fourteen Tunisian oil workers who were kidnapped in Western Libya have returned home in good health, a lead negotiator for their release told The Arab Weekly. 

The Tunisian workers, employed at an oil refinery in the small town of Zawiya west of Tripoli, had been held hostage by a local gang demanding the release of one of its leaders imprisoned in Tunis.

They were freed Sunday night after security forces pinpointed the gang's hideaway and moved in, said Mustapha Abdelkebir, a rights activist who liaised with Tunisian and Libyan authorities to help secure their release. 

One of the abductees told Tunisian media that the attackers fled once security forces arrived and that no violent altercation ensued. 

"To the last minute, we thought that we were going to die. For about 4 days, we were kept imprisoned in a dark place. We were scared but thank God this nightmare ended,” said another abductee to Tunisian news outlet Mosaique FM

The gang implicated in the kidnapping is reportedly linked to Kamal al-Lafi al-Hijaoui, a Libyan convicted of drug trafficking in Tunisia. 

Hijaoui is serving a prison sentence in Tunisia, which his gang sought to reverse through a hostage exchange. 

Abdelkebir said the abductees’ successful release was a victory for Tunisia, demonstrating its effective security cooperation with neighbouring Libya and “proving that Tunisia will not submit to kidnappers’ demands.”  

But the crisis also underscored the grave security threat to foreign workers in Libya, who are at risk of being targeted by a swathe of gangs and militias competing for power and influence in the conflict-ridden country.

Tunisia has been rocked by previous abductions of its citizens in Libya since conflict broke out in 2011. 

In June 2015, ten Tunisian diplomats were kidnapped by gunmen in their consulate in Tripoli in an attack thought to be carried out by the “Libya Dawn” militia. 

The group was suspected of attempting to gain leverage over Tunisian authorities after the arrest of one of its leaders, Walid Glib, on terror charges in Tunis.

The Tunisian diplomats were eventually released, while Tunisia shut down its Tripoli consulate for nearly three years.   

The same year, two Tunisian journalists were reported killed in the eastern port city of Derna. 

Reporters Sofian Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari were reportedly captured by ISIS en route from Benghazi to Tobruk. A spokesman for the UN-backed government in Tripoli said their bodies had been found with their throats slit. 

Tunisia is deeply involved in regional efforts to restore stability in Libya, with which it shares important economic and political ties.

In March, Tunisia will host the annual Arab League summit, in which talks on the conflict in Libya are expected to be high on the agenda.