Kidnapped tourists held in ex-rogue state Libya

Kidnappers holding 11 European tourists and eight Egyptians moved from Sudan into Libya with their hostages Sept. 25, the Sudanese government said. Sudanese authorities said a day earlier they had them all surrounded at their encampment near Jebel Oweinat, a mountain near where the borders of Egypt, Sudan and Libya meet. Egyptian officials have said the kidnappers are demanding a large ransom. One security source said they wanted 6 million euros to set the hostages free. “The Libyan authorities have been informed. They are now following the progress of the group,” Ahmed said. Ali Youssef Ahmed, head of protocol in the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, told Reuters. (Reuters, Sept. 25; AlJazeera, Sept. 23)

Kidnappers seized the tourists during a Sahara desert safari to Gilf al-Kebir, a plateau famed for its prehistoric cave paintings in a remote part of Egypt near the Sudanese border. The five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian were seized Sept. 19 along with their Egyptian guides and drivers and taken across the border.

Gilf al-Kebir lies beyond a vast plain of dunes known as the Great Sand Sea, and is one of the most arid places on Earth. The plateau has become popular among adventure and eco-tourists drawn by the prehistoric cave paintings on the plateau, discovered in 1933 by Hungarian explorer Laslo Almasy. They include the “Cave of the Swimmers,” immortalized in the 1996 movie The English Patient. The cave features 10,000-year-old paintings of people swimming, a relic of a time when scientists believe much of the Sahara was covered by lakes and rivers.

Ismail Khairat, a spokesman for Egypt’s UN mission, said the abduction was not connected to Islamic militants, who have previously attacked tourists in Egypt. “This is a criminal act. They are seeking a ransom,” he said. (AP, Sept. 24)

The cooperation by Egypt, Sudan and Libya against the kidnappers is indication of either the apolitical nature of the attackers or new alignments in the region, or both. Sudan is ostensibly a “rogue state,” while Libya has just mended fences with the “international community.”

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an historic visit to Libya earlier this month, wher Moammar Qaddafi gave her some unique gifts to remember their first encounter—including a necklace with a locket that included a picture of the once-reviled leader. Rice, whom Qaddafi calls “Leezza” and “my darling black African woman,” told reporters travelling with her that he also gave her a ring, a lute and a copy of his personal manifesto, the Green Book. (Gulf News, Sept. 8)

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