Noman Benotman – President, Quilliam
Sarah Sinno – Senior Researcher, Quilliam
K.D – Major, Libyan Intelligence Service
On September 19 2016, two Italians – Bruno Cacace and Danilo Calegno, and a third individual of dual Italian-Canadian nationalities, were kidnapped in the Libyan city of Ghat, in the southern Fezzan region. The three foreigners who worked in an Italian construction company near the Algerian border were intercepted by assailants who used a 4×4, as well as another vehicle deemed unfit for desert conditions for the operation, suggesting it could have been brought from a nearby town for the purpose.
Kidnapping wave in Libya:
High profile kidnapping has become a fact of life in post-revolution Libya. Amidst the absence of a defined central authority since the 2011 uprising, kidnapping has become a common practice as a lucrative business, as a bargaining chip for prisoners or as leverage for other political agendas.
In one such troubling example in January 2014, an entire Egyptian diplomatic crew was abducted in an attempt to force Egypt to free Shabaan Hadiya – a top Libyan Islamist militia leader, from Egyptian captivity. He was eventually released for the diplomat’s safe return.
In April of the same year, the Jordanian ambassador, Fawaz al-Itan, was also held captive in Tripoli. In exchange for his liberation, his abductors demanded the release of Mohamad Said Dersi, a Libyan terrorist who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Jordan for planning to attack a Jordanian airport. Dersi had been a prominent commander in the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, an Islamist militia group currently fighting in Benghazi. Itan was released in exchange for Dersi returning to Libya; potentially creating a worrying precedent.
Curiously however, in contrast to these high profile cases, in this recent case of kidnapping of the Italian nationals, no one has claimed responsibility for the abduction, and no demands have been made for the release of the victims.
The kidnappers were identified as local Libyan Tuaregs, one of Nigerian Tuareg origins. By occupation they were: a drug dealer, a garbage truck driver and a soldier who worked in an illegal immigration unit in Ghat. The group showed no sign of professionalism. One of the kidnappers used one of the victims’ cellular phone which quickly broadcast his location.
With no records of prior convictions nor any ideological affiliations, the likelihood that the culprits are Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda or ISIS is low, suggesting that the orchestrator could be a third party aiming to deliver a message.
The abduction occurred a day prior to the visit of an Italian delegation to meet with political and military forces in Ghat. Forces who are not involved in the fighting taking place in the north, neither with Tripolitania in the west nor Cyrenaica in the east.
In addition to that, the airplane which carried the delegates from Rome had to fly over Tripoli to get to its destination at Ghat. This means that prior approval from the civil aviation in Tripoli was required.
Given the current chaos in Libya, having access to information that the meeting was taking place would have not been a difficult task for the interested party. However, despite efforts to obstruct it, the meeting of the Italian and Libyan delegation went ahead. Therefore, the timing of the event strongly suggests that the kidnapping was meant as a message for the Italian government.
Disastrous security landscape:
The Libyan response to the kidnapping demonstrates the severe issues of security that have emerged in the fractured country. One of the abductors was kidnapped by security forces from Tripoli, without the acknowledgement of the southern authorities, while the other two were subsequently arrested by another security agency. This disorganisation is reflective of the conflicting interests between sparring factions within the Libyan state itself.
The lack of coordination among competing security agencies constitutes a pressing concern to observers, as the splintered state continues to be exploited by an array of criminal groups. If the current lawlessness is not dealt with effectively, the power of armed group to strong arm their will into the Libyan state will undoubtedly grow.
We can conclude that the facts of the timing and the nationality of the victims suggests that the perpetrator is in fact not an Islamist terrorist organization, but a party that is seeking to convey a political message to the Italian government. The mastermind behind the kidnapping has deliberately exploited the current chaos to create the false perception that the executors were from an Islamist terrorist group.
Our information confirms that the hostages are still in Libya, and hopes for their release are high as they have not been transferred to the sub-Saharan region. However, the situation could deteriorate if those holding the victims captive deliver them to prominent Al Qaeda terrorist, Mokhtar Belmokhtar. This situation is indicative of the complex and precarious security situation in post-revolution Libya.