Up to 35 Egyptians have reportedly been kidnapped in Libya, in what is feared to be an act of retaliation for Egyptian airstrikes on Derna in eastern Libya.
Thirty-five Egyptian nationals, many of them farm workers, were reported missing from areas controlled by Islamic State, which was the target of Monday morning’s air strikes, local news site Libya Herald reported.
According to the site, the workers were rounded up at various sites throughout the day on Monday.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the apparent kidnapping, and the whereabouts of the Egyptian nationals remains unknown at the time of publication.
The Egyptian bombing raids on Monday sparked criticism from many inside Libya.
Libya Dawn, a militant group that took control of the capital Tripoli in September 2014, said it would not “sit with its hands tied” following what it called the “violation of all treaties concerning relations between these two brotherly countries”.
In a statement released on Monday, the group called on Libyans to protest, warning Egyptians remaining in Libya to leave for fear of reprisals following the airstrikes.
However, the group earlier condemned the apparent killing of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, saying the mass beheading was a “criminal act”.
As hundreds gathered in the impoverished Upper Egypt village of Al-Our to pay tribute to the dead men, fears grew for the safety of the Egyptian nationals still in Libya.
The director of Egypt’s official statistics body said on Monday that he did not know how many Egyptians are now in Libya.
The most recent count, published by the International Organisation for Migration last year, put the number at 1.6 million.
Egyptian army deployed
Militants in Derna pledged allegiance to IS last October, and the small town was the focus of Monday’s airstrikes, which Libyan officials said had killed “40 or 50” people thought to be militants.
Activists said that the strikes had killed seven civilians, including three children, and unverified footage purporting to be from the scene of the strikes showed severe damage to residential buildings in the town.
Such reports could not be independently verified – Libya Herald reported sources as saying that the central Derna home of Bashar al-Idrissi, an IS leader, was targeted in the raid.
In Egypt, whose border with Libya lies some 450 kilometres east of Derna, large numbers of army troops were deployed throughout Egypt’s provinces on Monday night to assist local police.
“To offer peace and security to citizens, members of the armed forces have begun deploying … to protect public and private property,” an armed forces spokesperson said on his Facebook page, where he posted pictures of the operation.
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