March 21, 2013

UPDATE: Sheik Abu Omar in Al Mehdia, North Sinai, holds 8 year old Ahlam hostage

 The worries about 8 year old Ahlam held with her parents in the Sinai continue.

Ahlam has not been sold off to gangsters, as was announced by the kidnappers, as ransom money has been collected and it is attempted to get it to the contact persons of those holding Ahlam and parents hostage. It is a difficult task and complex situation, and as always the Eritrean-Swedish journalist Meron Estefanos is masterminding all this with an enormous discipline and compassion working tirelessly behind the scenes.

The ongoing negotiations are for clear reasons not up for publication so as not to endanger the hostages. But what can be said is that the donation site has managed to collect over $15,000 and further money could be collected from Eritreans at home and abroad. That money is now transferred to the contacts and it is eagerly awaited that word comes in that the money has arrived and Ahlam and her parents will be set free.

It must be noted that nothing is guaranteed at the moment, for in numerous other cases the kidnappers have not kept their side of the agreement and handed hostages to other gangs despite ransom having been paid. It remains to be seen if this time the hostages will indeed be freed.

By now it is known who holds Ahlam and parents captive. It is Sheik Abu Omar, living in a huge mansion in Al Mehdia in North Sinai, approximately 10km off the Egyptian-Israeli border. There can be no doubt that the Egyptian army would have no problems in cordoning off the area and arresting Abu Omar thus ending the dramatic hostage drama going on there for more than two years. Yet the army is much more busy with destroying tunnels to Gaza and could not care less for the lives of those hundreds of hostages held by Abu Omar and brutally tortured by his men.

An article I wrote in Daily News Egypt on Ahlam's horrors has found its way into the Sinai desert and is said to have enraged Bedouins who contacted to say they want to help. In how far this is however a true will or not just an attempt to clear the image of Bedouins in Sinai, remains to be seen. Fact is that many Bedouins in the area know exactly where the hostages are held but dare not to interfere, scared this could incite a tribal war.

In the meantime the Egyptian authorities allow the torture and killing to go on and thus become complicit to these crimes against humanity. With every murder that happens there, President Morsi and Prime Minister Qandil run the risk of being indicted at the ICC in The Hague for letting this continue to happen. It is about time to charge them for not undertaking the effort to put an end to these horrible crimes. Perhaps then they will note that brutal torture and the killing of human beings is a crime against humanity. Coming from the Muslim Brotherhood and hailing the compassion of Islam they seem to be strangely non aware of this. 

Six managed to flee – and where caught again

Further troubling news has been coming out of Sinai the last days while we wait to hear of Ahlam's release.

Three days ago it became known that six men, who have been held by Abu Sania, a brother of Abu Omar, managed to flee their captors into the desert. Shortly afterwards however they were recaptured and brought back to the torture camp. Someone familiar with such flight attempts going wrong confirms that these men will now be subjected to horrible tortures as punishment. It must even be feared that at least one or two will be tortured to death as a warning to all other hostages not to try an escape. The brutality is beyond imaginable. Hostages, who managed to come free after ransom was paid for them, testified to human rights activists later in Cairo and Tel Aviv that they had wished rather to die than have to endure the torture any longer. The pain inflicted can not be described to the outside world.

Two 18 year old girls die of torture

An even more troubling news came yesterday, as it was made known to Meron Estefanos during her contacts with hostages that two 18 year old Eritrean girls, who where held in Sinai for eleven months, were so severly tortured that they died in the early morning. They had no family contacts who could provide the ransom money, so that after eleven months of captivity the kidnappers gave up and resorted to raping and brutally torturing them. Both did not survive this. The bodies were dumped in the desert yesterday morning and according to another source are still not found.

Have we any idea what pains are inflicted until a young girl dies? Have we any idea?

It is not only the horrible news that these young two girls are dead now. It is the unimaginable pains these girls were subjected to before their bodies gave in and they died that must shock us to the bone. We have no idea, not the slightest, how horrific these pains are, for we did not endure them. They did. And now they are dead.

In the meantime a totally undisturbed President Morsi and an indifferent Prime Minister Qandil take to their beds for another good night's sleep. While 8 year old Ahlam does not know if she will survive the day that comes.

Egypt. 2013. A human catastrophe.


  1. It seems strange that human smuggles/coyotes, who have more than enough victims coming to them in the hopes of being smuggled from their East African locations into Israel, that they do NOT need to kidnap anyone. It is unfortunate if these victims think they have to say that to save themselves from a horrific trap that migrants often find themselves in around the world, especially here in the Americas.

    Along with human cargo, the Rashaida smuggle weapons, as we know from the Israeli bombing of one of their caravans a couple of years ago. Since they have branches in Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt, this tribe have plenty of places to hide and extort without going up to the Israeli border unless that is where their victims were trying to go in the first place. I would like to think that this was on the human rights agenda when the US Assist Sec for DRL visited Egypt a couple of months ago.

    What needs to happen is for journalists, especially radio stations, to highlight this crime on a regular basis, especially with interviews with returned or susviving individuals or their relatives. Yesterday, one Egyptian TV station showed the bodies of two women who had been tortured and killed and whose bodies were dumped along the roadside. They had Sudanese identification.

    Another thing is that the Israelis need to repatriate the Africans that DO make it to their country in order to discourage others from making the dangerous journey. It sounds cruel, but certainly less cruel than what happens to many of them. That also needs to be advertized in Africa as well.

    It may well be that the police get a cut for their silence with regard to these loathesome acts, but one must remember as well that the police are terrorized by the gangs and jihadis roaming northern Sinai, so much so that they supposedly disappear into their quarters and do not venture out after nightfall. I suspect that this horrific treatment of human cargo is part of the extended activities of these overlapping groups that also involve better known Palestinian groups.

    It would be helpful if attention to this economic actitity could be wrapped into the current military operation to close the tunnels into Gaza which are part of a broader anti-Hamas initiative going on over their being a security threat.

    That is how some of these victims have been found in the past. One Egyptian press report said that the police in Gaza were holding about 100 of these victims they found in jail in Rafah. That should end soonest. If they have captured the smugglers, there should be a big show trial.

    1. While I agree with many things you say, I have to point out that the people we ware talking about here, who have been held or are still being held hostage, are not as you take it migrants trying to enter illegally into Israel getting kidnapped on their way across Sinai. While this has happened as well before, we must now face and accept the new dimension, that most of the almost 1000 hostages currently held in Sinai have been in fact abducted thousands of kilometres away from Sinai in South Sudan. Some were kidnapped right in front of the UNHCR refugee camp where they had found shelter after fleeing their brutal Eritrean regime. Many want to continue from there to relatives in Europe or the US and are then kidnapped outside the refugee camp or on their way to the embassies where they want to get travel visas.

      These people – as a new UNHCR report confirmed only days ago – are then taken in gruelling voyages across the desert all the way up to the North of Sinai and are then shackled and held for months under torture and rape until their families pay the ransom for them. Those for whom ransom can not be obtained are then murdered and dumped in the desert. All this is well documented.

      We must focus exclusively on the incredible human tragedies that unfold here – of frightened people fleeing the brutal military regime in Eritrea to what they believe is the safety of the outside world and a UNHCR refugee camp in South Sudan – only to be kidnapped, dragged for weeks up to the North to Sinai and then held under unbelievable conditions and treatment right under the eyes of the Egyptian army and police who both know of location and conditions of theses hostages – yet do nothing.

      No, we are not talking about illegal migrants falling prey to gangsters on their way to Israel – we are talking of free human beings being kidnapped in South Sudan by tribal gangs and then transported in trucks up north and sold to the criminals in North Sinai who keep them until ransom is paid for them, who torture and rape them heavily during that time and then either set them free or kill them, if the ransom could not be paid by the relatives.

      Innocent, free human beings like you and me – dragged thousands of kilometres away from where they are to be horrifically beaten and injured in Egypt – where they never wanted to be and in fact did not have the intention to go to.

      (continued below) ...

    2. I know of victims who wanted to go to Norway to their relatives. On the way to the Norwegian Embassy in Sudan they got kidnapped, were brought to North Sinai and killed after being held for almost a year when no family could raise the huge ransom that was demanded. They were not illegal migrants, as you assume, but free humans abducted and then subjected to incredible crimes far away from the place where they were kidnapped. That makes all of this even more horrific than it is already. It basically can happen to any refugee in South Sudan.

      The UNHCR has pointed out in February that they are not able to stop this from happening and have no means to protect the refugees they shelter from being kidnapped and taken away to Egypt. The UNHCR has now called upon "all political actors" to enforce protection for the refugees at their camp and the government of South Sudan has pledged to send troops to help guard the UNHCR camp so that kidnappings there will not be able to happen.

      Nevertheless the people are still in danger as they have to go to embassies to obtain travel visas. And no one unfortunately sees it possible to protect these people on these tours. So it must be feared – unless Egypt radically intervenes and finally stops the criminal activities happening in Sinai – that the abductions in South Sudan will continue as long as human beings can still be sold for a profit to Bedouins in Egypt's Sinai desert.

      By the way – the prize for an Eritrean girl of 9 years is $10,000 when bought from the kidnappers in South Sudan. The ransom the human traffickers in Sinai, who bought the child, demand is $25,000. As one of those human traffickers explained live on BBC in November: "It's my job. I have to live."

      Respecting that the hostages too 'have to live', unfortunately was not on his mind and could not be made understood to him.

      Egypt. 2013.

    3. What does not make sense here is WHY they take the victims all the way to Sinai. It seems there are desolate places to do this much closer to where they were captured and much further from a central government's control. I am thinking of the Red Sea hills in Sudan and Egypt.

      If a family DOES manage to pay the ransom and the kidnappers decide to free the victims, where do they take them/release them? [I would assume they are mixed in with the people seeking to go to Israel during their captivity.]

      Do we assume that a group in South Sudan kidnaps the people in the first instance and then hands them over to the Reshaida?

      Let us say that the tribe in Sinai that buys a female child and, failing to get a ransom, keeps her, what is their long term purpose? Slavery [concubinage], prostitution? If so, where?

    4. "What does not make sense here is WHY they take the victims all the way to Sinai."

      Because in Sinai, where this happens, lawlessness has been allowed to go on for many years, making it the ideal spot to harbour hostages for such a long time without getting harassed by the police. The Rashaida Bedouins have a long history of weapon and drug smuggling, which they operate from there obviously bribing both police and Egyptian army to not interfere. Fact is that there are huge hashish plantations and warehouses full of hashish there and no one goes and closes these illegal activities down. In the safety of these undisturbed operations the human trafficking became another highly lucrative trade. To the Bedouins doing this, the victims are only 'commodities' and produce much more income than can be derived from the hashish or weapons.

      "It seems there are desolate places to do this much closer to where they were captured and much further from a central government's control. I am thinking of the Red Sea hills in Sudan and Egypt."

      The point of it being desolate is not good enough, the traffickers need their own tribal area where they can be safe from interference of other tribes. That is not necessarily the case in the areas you mention. Bedouins cannot just perform such criminal activities anywhere given the fact that the whole land from Sudan to North Sinai is carefully divided by different tribes of whom the majority will not tolerate such actions within their boundaries.

      "If a family DOES manage to pay the ransom and the kidnappers decide to free the victims, where do they take them/release them?"

      Initially most of the victims were released and dropped at the Israeli border, which is only 10 km away. There the hostages were either shot dead by Egyptian solders (the UN has highly criticised these killings in 2010 already) - or when they did manage to cross to Israel were put into refugee camps. Then Israel decided it had enough and started to turn those hostages back, often driving them back over the border and handing them over to Egyptian solders who then arrested these hostages for having 'infiltrated illegally' into Egypt. The hostages were then incarcerated by the Egyptian police in El-Arish and treated again in a horrible way, later brought to Cairo and from there deported back to Eritrea where they were arrested as 'enemies' to the military regime (because they had fled the country, which in Eritrea is illegal) and went to jail. - It is an ongoing cycle of violations against these people.

      (continued below) ...

    5. ... This is also still happening today. El Arish jail is still full with victims of the kidnappings that came free but were arrested by Egyptian police and thrown into jail.

      After Israel began to hand these people over to Egyptian soldiers, those who negotiated for the freedom of these hostages demanded that the hostages were brought to Cairo instead. To this the Bedouins agreed, but they charge $1,000 extra for bringing the hostages to Cairo. There they dump them in a street.

      The hostages then have only two options: Either they manage to make it to the UNHCR office, then they are taken care of and have made it. From there it can however still take months until the UNHCR manages to fly them out of Egypt to their relatives somewhere in the world. Egypt is not helping on this.

      The other more gruesome option often happening: the hostages, that were dumped in Cairo are picked up by Egyptian police, again accused of having 'illegally infiltrated' Egypt (although initially they were kidnapped and brought there by force, but the Egyptian police doesn't care for this) and arrested. They are then kept up to 2 years under horrible conditions in Cairo in jail until someone manages to come up to pay for the deportation flight ticket to Eritrea. Because, Egypt wants to deport these people disregarding their human tragedy - but is not willing to pay for the deportation. So unless someone is found to pay the ticket, these poor people rot away in an Egyptian prison where they are maltreated by the guards like dogs. And all that after the torture and indescribable brutalities they already suffered at the hands of the kidnappers. As one victim said: "The Bedouins were horrible. But the Egyptian police is even more horrible than the Bedouins."

      Here lies one of the great crimes of Egypt which the UNHCR has pointed out again and again, as all treaties Egypt is signatory state to about dealing with refugees are violated by the Egyptian authorities. Egypt has never to this day seen a reason to adhere to the treaties it signed. It treats these victims of human trafficking with unbelievable contempt and brutality - thus intensifying the wrongs that were done unto them when they were kidnapped and abducted to Sinai, tortured and raped. Instead of caring for these victims of horrific crimes and treating their multiple heavy injuries they sustained in the torture camps, Egypt prolongs the torture by maltreating them in Egypt's jails. That is a crime second to none.

      "Do we assume that a group in South Sudan kidnaps the people in the first instance and then hands them over to the Reshaida?"

      That I have described above. Yes.

      Let us say that the tribe in Sinai that buys a female child and, failing to get a ransom, keeps her, what is their long term purpose?

      This scenario does not exist. A hostage for whom ransom cannot be obtained is always in the end killed by the Bedouins - and always by torturing them to death. The Bedouins have no interest in such hostages unless they can derive money from them. If this is not possible they kill them to make room for new ones they buy in order to be able to pressure new families into paying ransom. There is no 'long term purpose' here other to make money again and again and as much as possible. If a 'commodity' (hostage) cannot be sold for ransom, it is destroyed - and that means killed and dumped in the desert, as has happened yesterday with the two 18 year old girls. After eleven months it was clear that no ransom would be obtainable for them so they were tortured to death.

      Please try to imagine what that literally means to a human being: tortured to death.

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  4. Sorry, deleted comments to incorporate as replies, to make clear, I'm answering the reader and not commenting.

  5. Wow! I had no idea of the extent of this problem!! I thought it was just a pesky few outlaws causing a nuisance.

    We must get exposure to this problem everywhere and now!!

    1. Mina,

      The refugees need the help of the Egyptian people both muslims and christians. Many of the refugees are of the Orthodox faith. They are the children of Pope Shenouda and Pope Tawadros.

    2. Doesn't matter what faith they are! No one should have to go through that - especially when help can be had so easily if only that lousy excuse for a President would actually do his job.

  6. I personally believe the whole issue is a circle.
    I mean how can a illetrate Bedou assume to kidnap and torture people from Eritrea in smaller numbers also from Ethiopia and Sudan. But they repeatedly said (the Bedous) their main targets are Eritreans??!! I think the Eritrean Mafia unelected government is directly involved in it.
    They needed a remote area and the location of Sinai is perfect. Since it is proven that Iran has bases on Eritrean Islands. And Iran is a clear supporter of Hamas.
    In Iran organtrade is not very regulated in the purchase and sale is allowed there!
    The Eritrean government used to charge parents whose kids left abroad/dont serve the military for unlimited time have to pay a fine of about 50.000 Nakfa. Since people knew this they prepared this funds aside for their parents.
    Since only old gangsters who never passed the 3rd grade are running the country the economy is shut down completely which makes the NAKFA (eritrean Currency) pretty useless.
    They need hard currencies to finance their evilish Agenda.
    So the money they have to extort.
    Obviously they cant do this inside Eritrea so they chose in regards to their route this remoteless without any law desert new Israeli border. They know that Egyptian military is not allowed to be stationed there due to an agreement with Israel (PEACE AGREEMENT).

    You know too many individuals and this case Countries are involved in this mad and most disgusting business of extorting the poorest of the poor.

    I mean just think about it, kidnapping a REFUGEE says it all.
    How can one normal human beeing even think of BUYING a human beeing????!!!

    I mean lets think logical. If your own government does not respect nor even recognize you as their own citizen how do you expect others to do so???
    I mean one Bedou once said it exactely how i categorized their thinking. "IF their own people is selling them why shall we care"?

    Beside that, africans the darker the worse are always seen majoritly as subhumans or second class people. And this almost regardless where in the world. It is just a different packaging!!!

    I believe once the Eritrean Regime is removed, those kidnappings will drop by 99% !!!!
    Firstly because people have no reason anymore to flee!
    Secondly the Rashaidas will be eliminated from the terrority of Eritrea and Eastern Sudan.
    Thirdly because RULE OF LAW will exist and will be fully executed.


    1. You are telling lies about Eritrea. Shame on you.

  7. You are so right, Faith is unimportant. This shall not happen to any human beeing.