Isil militants believed to have kidnapped 86 Eritrean refugees from a smugglers’ caravan in western Libya
Militants from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) are believed to have kidnapped 86 Eritrean refugees from a smugglers’ caravan in westernLibya.
The militants struck at dawn on Wednesday morning, stopping the vehicle before separating Christian refugees from their Muslim counterparts, according to Meron Estafanos, the co-founder of the Stockholm-based International Commission on Eritrean Refugees.
Many of the refugees – among them 12 women – were forced to lie about their faith. Those who claimed to be Muslim were grilled on their knowledge of the Koran, as well as their prayer habits.
Wednesday’s kidnapping bears chilling echoes of a similar incident in April when Isil militants kidnapped 79 Eritrean and Ethiopian Christian refugees. Days later, more than thirty of the men were beheaded or shot dead in scrubland while young survivors were forced to watch.
Details of Wednesday’s attack will emerge in the coming days as a handful of escapees tell their stories. At least nine men were able to dive silently from the back of the jihadists’ speeding truck.
A group of Eritrean refugees walk along a railway line into central Calais
According to Mrs Estafanos, who has spoken to some of the men, the hostages mostly hail from the Eritrean town of Adi Keyih. “Those who escaped are in the middle of nowhere right now and we need to get them to a safer place – but it is hard while there are no NGOs there, no one able to help,” said Ms Estafanos.
“If it is known they were taken by (Isil), no one will protect them.”
After formally announcing the establishment of three Isil-run “provinces” across Libya, the jihadists are solidifying their grip over chunks of territory through a mix of spectacular violence and strict implementation of their clerics’ rulings.
This is at least the third time in three months that Eritrean migrants in Libya have been targeted by the militants. Reports emerged earlier this week that two Eritrean refugees has been shot dead after the jihadists stopped a truck carrying 75 African migrants. Once again, the passengers were separated according to their faith before the killings were carried out.
Twenty two per cent of people entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN, a statistic prompted by “ruthless repression” in their home country.
Rights abuses perpetrated by Eritrea’s government, coupled with dismal economic prospects, are driving hundreds of people out of the country every day, according to an interim report by the UN’s commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea.