The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
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Austria says nine employees of Malta-based firm were executed by Islamist militants in 2015

Wednesday, 20 September 2017, 15:26 Last update: about 7 years ago

The Austrian government said today it had evidence that nine oilfield workers employed by an Austrian firm based in Qormi who were abducted by Islamist militants in Libya in 2015 had been executed the same year.

The employees of the Malta-based Value Added Oil Services Ltd (VAOS) were of various nationalities: four Filipinos, two Bangladeshis, one Austrian, one Czech and one Ghanaian.  The Austrian Foreign Ministry said it was still trying to verify the information that they had been slain.


VAOS specialises in Libya and has offices in Malta and Austria.

An Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said a crisis team was trying to verify information from a militant Islamist website suggesting that all or some of the hostages had been killed in 2015, after they had been seized in March.

"We have some evidence that the worst is to be feared. We are working on verifying the information. It is still unclear what happened exactly to whom," a ministry spokesman said today.

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz had contacted the family of the Austrian man.

"Even if it turns out that the evidence is correct it will be extremely difficult to retrieve bodies from the area where fighting continues," the spokesman said.

The Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, a group based in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, said on its website this week that that it had recovered the bodies of five of the workers in May 2015 during clashes with rival militants from Islamic State. It said it had handed the bodies over to Libya's Red Crescent.

In a statement, the Council said it later found a laptop containing a photo of one of the employees, and a video of the killing of four Filipino workers, and was able to match them to images of the kidnapped employees.

The bodies were buried in marked graves and "special procedures are underway to return them to their families", the group said. The Red Crescent declined to comment.

No warning at time of the abduction

Back in March 2015 the Maltese-registered Austrian company that employs nine foreign workers abducted by IS-linked militants said it had received no warning or recommendation to evacuate by the Libyan National Oil Corporation before the camp was surrounded by "a large number of vehicles belonging to an unknown armed group."

VAOS had said that five armed men entered the Ghani camp and assembled all occupants before loading them onto vehicles and departing. It reiterated that no company employees were physically harmed during the episode but made no reference to reports that eight Libyan security guards had been beheaded during the attack.

VAOS referred to the Ghani camp as a "supposedly secure camp" within a wider protected zone guarded by armed Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). The company said it had taken a decision at the end of February 2015 to reduce manning to a skeleton crew due to the client halting production and the prevailing security situation.

Non-essential staff were transferred to VAOS' Zella site, approximately 90 minutes by car away, indefinitely until production resumes, which in itself would signify that the security situation would have greatly improved. The normal occupancy of Ghani sits at 62 employees and this was reduced to just 14 - 11 expatriates and 3 local Libyans.

"In light of the information provided by our security provider and local contacts, VAOS had ordered the evacuation of both Ghani and Zella sites early afternoon on Friday 6 March. Sadly for those in Ghani, they were surrounded and abducted by armed militia before they could evacuate. The larger evacuation of the Zella site, involving 51 expats, took place successfully with individuals now secured on one of our other camps waiting evacuation."

The company explained that is has an established security manager and also makes use of an external security provider for both physical security and intelligence. Company staff movements are restricted and employees are essentially restricted to the camp when not at work. It also carries out regular security training.

VAOS also insisted that its workers were given the option to return home at any time. It made travel arrangements for those who wished to leave and fully supports those who chose to stay.

"VAOS can categorically confirm that no written or verbal warning was received from the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) directly regarding any recommendations to evacuate. There is regular correspondence between clients and VAOS regarding production and occasionally notification that sites might be closed - under these circumstances it is common practice for VAOS to relocate staff to safe sites."

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