Sixteen Egyptians were reportedly shot dead in the western Libyan town of Beni Waleed on Wednesday, with another seven detained. Initial reports indicate that the victims may have been involved in an attempted illegal migration, and that a scuffle between them and human traffickers in Libya resulted in their deaths.
In a televised interview broadcast on the privately owned Al-Ghad satellite channel, Libyan political analyst Abdel Basset Ben Hamel commented that “this incident came about following the murders of three local Libyan youths.”
The analyst added that the killings may have been an act of revenge, although the role of the Egyptians in the conflict is unknown.
Ben Hamel added that he did not know which governorates or cities these Egyptians hailed from, or whether they were Muslims or Copts. A sectarian motive behind the murder of these Egyptians is unlikely, however, unlike the execution of 21 Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach by an Islamist militant group in February 2015.
Reports indicate that Libyan-based human traffickers were at the core of this incident, as opposed to militias or radical armed groups, Ben Hamel added.
Egypt’s state-owned Al-Ahram news portal reported that the 16 Egyptians were shot dead in Beni Waleed’s industrial zone (located around 160 kilometers southeast of the Libyan capital Tripoli), “in the absence of security forces.” The murders took place after locals discovered dead bodies of three Libyan youth, one of whom was reportedly “slain with a knife.”
The Egyptians were allegedly killed after being accused of murdering the three Libyan men, and stealing one of their vehicles. These claims could not be independently verified, Al-Ahram reported.
An unnamed Libyan security source told Al-Ahram that seven more Egyptians were detained in Beni Waleed pending investigations, in light of the killings.
Citing the spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Abu Zeid, the privately owned Youm7 news portal reported that the ministry is in direct contact with officials from the regional government in Libya. Abu Zeid told Youm7 that, according to preliminary findings, the number of Egyptians killed in Beni Waleed on Wednesday may range between 12 to 16. The Egyptians were killed in light of a conflict with criminal gangs involved in human trafficking, he stated.
Egyptian authorities are in contact with coroners in Libya to identify the bodies and transport them back to Egypt, Abu Zeid said. The spokesperson also warned Egyptians of the dangers of illegal migration and human traffickers.