Fifteen Egyptians who were believed to have been captured by the Islamic State militant group in Libya are safe and being detained by Libyan authorities at an illegal immigrants centre In Tripoli, an Egyptian foreign ministry official said on Tuesday.
“The ministry… contacted the Egyptian ambassador to Libya who confirmed [the Egyptians’] location,” assistant foreign minister Hisham El-Naqib told state-owned news agency MENA.
“The IS group in Libya has nothing to do with this matter, as they [the Egyptians] are located in the capital Tripoli; around 400 kilometres from [the areas controlled by] the terrorist group,” he explained.
Egyptian authorities secured the release in February of 35 Egyptians detained in eastern Libya on charges of illegal immigration and vagrancy.
According to a 2010 report by the International Organisation for Migration, some 1.5 million Egyptians were working in Libya at the time, though the number of expats fell sharply after the NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that saw the ouster and death of long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Egypt shares a 1,200-kilometre border with Libya, which has posed a security concern for Egypt in recent years, with smugglers moving weapons and militants in and out of the country.
In February 2015, a graphic video was posted online showing IS militants on a Libyan beach beheading 20 Egyptian Christians and vowing to fight who they described as “crusaders.”
Less than 24 hours after the release of the video, Egypt launched airstrikes on IS hideouts in the Libyan cities of Derna and Sirte in coordination with the Libyan army.