An Eritrean kidnapping ring that snatches refugees and tortures them while trying to collect ransom is thriving under the political chaos in Egypt, according to American analysts.
Recent reports say a Bedouin tribe is taking the refugees from a camp and transporting them to the Sinai Peninsula. Telephone calls to relatives, threats, torture and even worse then follow.
Clare Lopez, senior fellow for the Center for Security Policy, says the 2011 coup that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak opened the door for the Bedouins’ criminal operation.
“The Sinai has become more lawless since Mubarak’s ouster. Al-Qaida, Bedouin tribes, Hamas and Hezbollah have all had a much freer run of things in the post-Mubarak Sinai,” Lopez said.
Lopez lays the blame for the kidnapping ring at the feet of Egypt and the political unrest.
She said the chaos has developed as Egypt has become less stable as a result of the economic problems that have grown to critical levels.
“Egypt is no longer even able to earn enough money to buy the food it needs. Imports are greater than 50 percent of the country’s caloric needs right now,” Lopez said. “It’s a totally failed state.”
She said the upheaval won’t be ending soon.
“Egypt is teetering on a precipice until we know whether the military can control the calls to violence from the ousted Muslim Brothers,” Lopez said.
Lopez noted that neither the military nor the ousted Muslim Brotherhood regime has legitimacy.
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies military analyst Bill Roggio confirms Lopez’s analysis. Roggio says the Sinai has become a lawless area, and Egypt’s ongoing political chaos will do nothing to help the refugees taken there by the Eritrean tribesmen.
International Christian Concern’s Africa Area Specialist William Stark explained the kidnapping problem.
He said one tribe has established a human trafficking ring that engages in kidnapping, torture and even organ harvesting.
“According to my contacts, the people that are engaged in this human trafficking ring are the Rashida tribesmen. They raid Eritrean refugee settlements, kidnap individuals and hold them for ransom,” Stark said.
Stark added that Christians are the frequent targets of the Bedouin tribesmen.
“Eritrean Christians are particularly vulnerable to this trafficking ring because many of them are forced to live in these refugee settlements after escaping persecution in Eritrea,” Stark said.
“There are also reports of Eritrean Christians hiring smugglers to smuggle them out of Eritrea, only to be sold by their smugglers to the Rashida tribesmen and then trafficked into the Sinai,” Stark said.
Stark said one gruesome feature of the operation is that the victim’s family receives a phone call in which it hears the family member being tortured.
“The kidnappers torture their victims while they are on the phone with loved ones in an attempt to elicit the ransom money as quickly as possible,” Stark said.
“If the ransom goes unpaid, there have been reports that the victim’s organs are harvested by their captors and sold on the black-market,” Stark said.
Stark noted CNN did a short documentary on the kidnapping and organ ring, called “Death in the Desert.”
Stark added that other refugees fleeing Eritrea’s communist regime are also targets.
“Refugees are targeted by the traffickers because they are do not have identity cards and likely are not registered with any governmental or non-governmental organization. This makes it easy for the traffickers to make their victims disappear without much consequence,” Stark said.
“This is a very unfortunate situation and one that has gone largely ignored by the international community,” Stark said.
Stark said the lack of publicity only heightens the severity of the refugee population’s situation.
“This inattention has allowed these refugees to become a forgotten people, whose basic humanity is denied when they are kidnapped, tortured and have their organs harvested and sold like commodities. What makes it even worse is that many people in the international community aren’t even aware of their plight,” Stark said.