Could Egyptian hostages in Libya have been saved?

A rescue operation conducted by special forces would have been futile due to the complexity of the situation and lack of resources, experts say

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While Egypt had more than 30 days to act since it confirmed the kidnapping of 21 of its citizens in Libya, some experts say little could have been done to prevent their execution.

A rescue operation conducted by special forces would have been futile considering the complexity of the security situation in Libya, Mamdouh Attiya, a retired major general in the Egyptian army, told Al Arabiya News.


“These operations are usually filled with risk and danger,” he said. “Americans themselves couldn’t go in” to save their hostages.

Mokhtar Awad, a Washington-based analyst at the Center for American Progress, told Al Arabiya News: “Egypt and the internationally-recognized, Tobruk-based government simply don’t have the human intelligence assets to have identified where the hostages were being kept, and more importantly, carry out a successful rescue operation.

“Hostage rescue efforts... usually go awry. Egypt doesn’t even have a fraction of the capacity of the United States, and past hostage rescue efforts... have miserably failed. There was no way a rescue effort was feasible.”


Mohamed Aboul Gheit, a Cairo-based writer on Islamist groups, said negotiating with the militants could have secured the release of the 21 Coptic Christian workers.

“There are other cases, also involving the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, where hostages were released,” said Aboul Gheit.

However, Attiya - now a security analyst who appears regularly on Egyptian media - said Cairo did attempt to negotiate the release of the workers.

“We tried our best, with Libyan intelligence, through [Libyan] tribes... to negotiate their release, but without success,” he said.

“Their main aim was to carry out the killings, to embarrass the Egyptian government, to scare the Egyptian people and to terrorize the Egyptian state.”


Following the release of the video showing the beheading of the workers, Egypt conducted airstrikes, saying it had struck ISIS locations and weapon depots in Sirte.

Aboul Gheit said this reaction “will worsen the security situation” for the tens of thousands of Egyptians living in Libya.

However, Mokhtar said the airstrikes were “appropriate,” as they “send a message to both Egyptians and ISIS, to the former that their government can act, and to the latter that there would be a price.”

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