Two Italians and a Canadian national, who were kidnapped in southwestern Libya about six weeks ago, have arrived in Italy after being “liberated,” the Italian foreign ministry announced on Saturday.
The men identified as Danilo Calonego, Bruno Cacace, and Frank Poccia were reportedly freed late Friday night, according to AP. The Italian foreign ministry said the mission to free the three men was successful thanks to the “effective cooperation” between foreign and local authorities.
The men, who are said to be workers for an Italian airport construction company, were reportedly kidnapped in the desert in Ghat in mid-September after a group of armed men sieged their vehicle.
After the three men had been kidnapped in Libya, both local authorities as well as the Italian and Canadian governments confirmed the incident. The Italian government reportedly dispatched a team of investigators to Libya to work on the case. Libyan National Army spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari had said the kidnapping appeared to have been carried out by al-Qaeda, Africa News reported.
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“The foreigners were on a plane from Tripoli to Ghat, and after arriving, they were captured. Unidentified assailants removed their driver from the car and kidnapped the foreigners who were on the plane,” the Mayor of a Libyan town said.
The Italian foreign ministry did not provide any information about the group behind the kidnapping or how the three men were freed. An official from the Ghat municipal council revealed after the three men were abducted that local authorities knew the group who kidnapped them. He said the group had carried out other crimes in the past, The Guardian reported.
Kidnapping has been on the rise in Libya since the country descended into a state of conflict following the revolution that toppled the late Muammar Al-Gaddafi’s regime. Foreign workers and high-ranking local officials are often targeted by the kidnappers, who sometimes demand ransom. Critics say that the Libyan government is powerless to stop the kidnappings.
Since last month, there have been at least two high-profile kidnappings in the country. Captain Fathi Al-Shatti, the former chairman and CEO of Libyan Airlines, is reported to have been kidnapped from his home in Tripoli last month by unknown gunmen, according to Libya Herald. Meanwhile, Mohamed Tahir Bakouri, the mayor of Traghen, a town in Libya, was also kidnapped a few days ago.
The fact that no group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the two Italians and the Canadian citizen leaves a lot of questions unanswered. A London-based think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, has theorized that the kidnappers are not Islamic extremists but political players who allegedly abducted the men to send a message to the Italian government. According to the foundation, the kidnapping may have been undertaken by Libyan groups looking to stop a meeting between an Italian delegation and neutral Libyan military forces in Ghat. The kidnapping took place a day ahead of the said meeting.
“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 Quilliam Foundation wrote.
Italy has deep ties with Libya. Libya was colonized by Italy before the Second World War, but later Rome gave up its claims to the colony. Italy shared vast economic ties with Libya under Gaddafi, and Rome continues to maintain some of these business relations. Last month, a security expert revealed that Italy had cooperated with opposing sides in the Libyan conflict to secure a delivery of 700,000 barrels of oil to the European country, according to Defense News.
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