The US Airstrike on the Islamic State in Libya Killed Two Serbian Hostages

Serbia's prime minister said two kidnapped embassy staffers were among the 50 people killed by US airstrikes on a suspected Islamic State training camp.
February 20, 2016, 5:30pm
The scene after an airstrike by US warplanes against a jihadist training camp in Sabratha, Libya. (Photo via EPA)

Two Serbian embassy staffers were among the 50 people killed on Friday during US airstrikes on a suspected Islamic State training camp in western Libya, according to Serbia's prime minister.

Sladjana Stankovic, a communications officer, and Jovica Stepic , a driver, were taken hostage on November 8 when their diplomatic convoy was attacked by militants near the western coastal city of Sabratha. Serbian ambassador Oliver Potezica escaped with his wife and two sons.

"It is officially confirmed that the two embassy staff were killed in air raids," Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said at a press conference in Belgrade on Saturday, describing the two deaths as "terrible collateral damage."

"Apparently, the Americans were not aware that foreign citizens were being kept there," Vucic said.

Related: Five Years On, Revolution Leaves Libya in the Grip of Civil War and the Islamic State

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that the country was close to securing a plan to release the two hostages, which may have involved help from Libyan troops. "I believe we had been close to the solution for them to be freed. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the attack against ISIS in Libya, the two of them lost their lives," Dacic said, using an alternate acronym for IS. "We will seek official explanation from both Libya and the United States about the available facts and the selection of targets."

Dacic said the militants were demanding a ransom for Stankovic and Stepic that was "impossible to pay."

"It wasn't in the interests of the people who held them to kill them, because there were no other demands but financial," added Dacic.

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US officials said the training camp was being used by around 60 IS fighters, including Tunisian militant Noureddine Chouchane, who is believed to be behind the two brutal attacks on tourist sites that left dozens dead last year in in Tunisia.

It was the second airstrike the US has carried out in the last three months against suspected IS targets in Libya. Extremist groups such as IS and al Qaeda have capitalized on the political turmoil which followed the downfall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The power vacuum has since been filled by an array of rebel groups and two competing governments, one in Tripoli and the other in the eastern part of the country.

The Special Deterrent Forces, a Libyan armed group which is allied with the militia-backed government now controlling Tripoli, posted on Facebook that two green coffins containing the dead embassy members had been delivered to Mitiga airport in the country's capital. They didn't say when the bodies would be flown to Serbia.

Related: On the Frontline of Libya's Fight Against the Islamic State

The Serbia-Libya relationship is decades old, going back all the way to the rule of the Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito. Tito heralded a more moderate form of Communism than was being exercised in the Soviet Union. "Titoism" was a large component of the so-called "Non-Aligned Movement," an informal grouping of countries that considered themselves part of neither the American nor the Soviet camp during the Cold War, and attracted world leaders including India's Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In 1969, following a coup, Qaddafi threw his weight behind the movement. Qaddafi was also a staunch opponent of NATO's intervention against former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. The two countries have been steadfast arms traders for years. When the international community condemned Qaddafi's oppressive regime, he found support in far-right Serbian nationalists.

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