Italian commando in Sudan hostage rescue

Helicopter-borne Egyptian and Sudanese troops, backed by Italian commandos, rescued the 19-member tour group kidnapped in Egypt and taken by their abductors on a 10-day trek through the Sahara to the border with Chad. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his country’s special forces were involved, ANSA reported. The freed tourists returned to Cairo Sept. 29 unharmed. Details of the operation were sketchy. Some Egyptian officials spoke of a gun-battle with the kidnappers, in which several of them were killed, but there was no official confirmation of these reports. One of the freed Egyptian hostages, Sherif Abdel Moneim, said the kidnappers abandoned the group at dawn “and moments later security forces came and rescued us.” The raid presumably took place on Sudanese territory. The kidnappers, who officials said were Sudanese and Chadian tribesmen, reportedly demanded a $15 million ransom. (Gulf Daily News, LAT, Sept. 30)

See our last posts on Italy and the Sahel/Maghreb.

  1. Further confusion over Sudan hostage rescue
    The official story of the hostage release is being questioned more and more. From the New York Times, Oct. 9:

    In an interview on Thursday, [ex-hostage Miloud] Abdel Wahab, as prisoner accounts published in Europe reported, said that he and his fellow captives were suddenly left with one Toyota Land Cruiser. He said they squeezed into the cab, while some hung on to the roof, for a 200-mile drive through the desert. It was a slow trip, hours long, and only then, he said, did the group see the Egyptian military. Even then, he said, the soldiers trained their guns on the freed prisoners, believing that they were with the kidnappers.

    “They didn’t know it was us,” Mr. Abdel Wahab said. “They surrounded us and we put up our hands.”

    The Egyptian government says that the prisoners were freed as the result of an “operation,” and the state-controlled media here reported the release as a result of a heroic commando raid. It was a bit of good news for the authorities, who are often blamed for their inability to deal effectively with a crisis.

    But now the reports of the rescue have been called into question by the former prisoners themselves, like Mr. Abdel Wahab, and officially by an opposition member of Parliament, Hamdy Hassan, who has demanded an investigation. Mr. Hassan said in a complaint issued this week that there was a broader principle at stake, that the government needed to be called to task if it used its control of the news media to spread false information and that it must have some degree of accountability.

    Magdy Rady, the chief spokesman for the cabinet of ministers, said that he did not have any details, but that the prisoners were freed as the result of a joint operation by Egypt, Sudan and Germany, with some help from Italy.

    “There was an operation,” Mr. Rady said. “Do you think they just let them go for good’s sake?”

    When asked why the operation left the prisoners to travel alone in the desert for many hours, with limited water and fuel, Mr. Rady replied: “I have no idea. I have nothing more to tell you.”