Missing Czech could be in group being held by Islamic State, say Austrians

Illustrative photo: Czech Television

A Czech national and eight others missing since last Friday following a terrorist attack on an oil field in Libya, could be in the hands of Islamic State, according to a statement released on Monday by the Austrian Foreign Ministry. Czech officials have not gone as far, saying they were in the process of gathering information, sending envoys to the region.

Andor Šándor, photo: Czech Television
I spoke to the former Czech military intelligence chief and defence specialist Andor Šándor to get his assessment of developments.

“I think that it is still too early to say who is behind the attack and possible kidnapping, we don’t yet know. Nowadays when something like this happens it is very fashionable for different groups to try and take credit saying ‘That was us.’ It is also popular among these groups to present themselves as Islamic State.

“We need to wait and be perfectly sure: either to try and free them or negotiate with those holding them. If it is a branch of Islamic State it cannot be ruled out than any hostages will end up like the 21 Copts who were beheaded last month. If those people are being held by different terrorist groups on Libyan territory it is possible that there will be a way to negotiate in the future.”

IS has released hostages in the past allegedly for ransom paid for nationals from different European countries… what is the position of the Czech Republic when it comes to negotiating with terrorists?

“We try and keep a low profile and don’t say publically what the country will do in this respect. It is good that the government tries to do what it can for hostages to be freed. In 2004, two Czech journalists were kidnapped in Iraq and were freed after six days without ransom being paid. It all depends. For the sake of argument, if hostage takers ask for two billion dollars, something like that would be out of the question. I think the government’s ability to pay is limited.”

Illustrative photo: Czech Television
The former Czechoslovakia, under communism, had strong ties with Libya: in terms of the intelligence communities can those still be useful?

“I have to say I don’t think so. Libya has been broken for four years. At a time when the country has two governments, one in Tripoli, the other in Tobruk, with limited authority and everybody fighting everybody, I wouldn’t be surprised to be told we don’t have the kind of contacts we used to have. Of course, there were a number of Libyans who studied here but I don’t know to what degree they could be helpful…”

“If we really want to be helped by someone it will have to be foreign countries like Egypt and France, which have a big say in Libya, and are countries which are very worried about developments. That said, I have not very optimistic at all: the future will show whether these people had any chance to be freed or whether those who were kidnapped were at the same time sentenced to death.”