06 January 2015, The Tablet

Priest highlights threat posed by armed gangs

A Catholic priest in Libya has highlighted the threat posed by armed gangs in the country, a day after the release of 13 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were seized by gunmen in the northern city of Sirte on 3 January.

Initial reports said Islamists had kidnapped the Christians, but tribal leaders on Monday insisted they had been detained by smugglers.

Fr Celso Larracas said while the latest attacks could be a reaction to Egypt’s support of the Libyan government, there were armed gangs which were increasingly targeting people for their possessions.

“They demanding money in form of ransom or other personal possessions. They have killed many people this way,” said Larracas, who has been a victim of the gangs.

Libya has been unstable since the 2011 topping of Muammar Gadhafi. Islamist militias who control large part of the country frequently fight each other.

Although local Muslim population are friendly to the Catholic Church, church leaders there say they have often felt insecure and unprotected.

But now attacks appear to be directed at the Egyptian Coptic Christians. In the latest incident, the Christians were picked from a residential compound at night in the series of attacks targeting the Egyptian Coptic Christians. Local reports said the masked gunmen had separated the Christians from Muslims before handcuffing and taking them away in cars.

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