Sad news are never in short supply in Libya. Almost every day of the past 7 years we the regular Libyans have watched the country descends into the abyss one news item at a time. But today’s story took sadness to a different level touching each one of us in a very deep and personal way.
Three children who were kidnapped three years ago while on their way home back from school, whose story had captured the imagination of the entire war-torn nation, have been confirmed dead today after police discovered their bodies buried near their town of Surman, 60 kilometres west of Tripoli.
Thahab, 12, and her two brothers Abdelhamid, 5, and Mohammad,8, were kidnapped on 02 December 2015 after gunmen in two cars ambushed the car carrying them, and shot their chauffeur in the foot before snatching them from their mother’s arms.
They were kidnapped for ransom for the misfortune of having a wealthy father. The kidnappers demanded 20 million dinar ($15 million). The crime occurred in a difficult period when most coastal towns west of Tripoli were under the control of Islamsit militias including jihadi groups like the Islamic State in Sabratha and others affiliated with local al-Qaeda offshoots.
The police were able to identify the location of the bodies thanks to a raid on a house in Surman which has last month led to the arrest of al-Nimri Mustafa al-Mahjoubi who was said to be involved in the crime.
The story dominated today’s domestic news cycle generating nationwide grief and anger. For each Libyan, the appalling tragedy of the Sharshari children has brought home the fact that Libya is truly a failed state. We have all seen our own children in Thahab, Abdelhamid and Mohammad, yet were unable to help. We were lazy and chose instead to rely on non-existent state institutions. We lacked the unity of purpose and continued to blindly follow our corrupt political leaders as they tore the country to pieces.
Kidnapping for ransom remains a thriving business and is often attributed to criminals on the government’s payroll whose militias benefit from nominal affiliation with the ministries of defence and interior. Stability can never be restored until the issues of militias and arms proliferation are resolved. And until the establishment of a legitimate and functioning government capable of monopolizing the use of military force. A government that operates under checks and balances based on law and constitution.
For the sake of the Sharshari children and all victims of kidnapping let today’s horrific tragedy be a turning point triggering a nationwide action to end impunity for all crimes and to ensure that justice is done. The tragic and untimely departure of Sharshari children presented us with the loudest of wakeup calls: either we start pulling together to create a better future for our children; or continue on the current path of self-destruction pursuing silly, short-sighted, personal interests.