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Swiss considered springing hostages in Libya

Switzerland examined the possibility of a military operation to rescue two Swiss hostages, according to reports in the Swiss press on Saturday.

This content was published on June 19, 2010 - 11:30

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said in an interview with the Tages-Anzeiger and Bund newspapers that “all options” had been closely examined.

The discussions resulted from the 2008 arrest by Geneva police of Hannibal Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, and his wife, who were charged with abusing their staff in a hotel. They were released on bail and left Switzerland.

Days later Swiss nationals Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani were arrested in Tripoli for visa irregularities. Hamdani was released in February this year, but Göldi had to serve a four-month prison sentence, only returning to Switzerland on Monday.

“We’re talking of a unique crisis. Considering unconventional possibilities is part of the process,” Calmy-Rey said. “We always have to look at every option – if we didn’t, people would ask us why not.”

Several scenarios involving so-called exfiltration – removing people from enemy control by deception, surprise or just brute force – have been reported in Swiss newspapers, but none has been confirmed by Calmy-Rey or the foreign ministry.

Fribourg-based La Liberté said on Saturday such an operation was considered twice – in December 2008 and September 2009 – but in both cases nothing went beyond the planning stage.

According to the Tages-Anzeiger, the first attempt involved secret services entering Libya through Algeria and the second through Niger: local Tuareg guides were apparently ready, but the Libyans got wind of the operation from a leak in Algeria.

The Tribune de Genève added that the Algerian plan failed because Bern rejected Algerian demands to return political opponents who had moved to Switzerland.

The paper said two other attempts were discussed that would have involved using the airplane of the Swiss ambassador to Libya and a submarine.

Relief

These claims are politically explosive because then-president Hans-Rudolf Merz, who flew to Tripoli in August 2009 and apologised for arresting Hannibal without telling any of his cabinet colleagues, knew nothing about the plans – Calmy-Rey had gone behind his back. This at least was what someone close to Merz told Swiss radio on Friday.

Military experts were relieved Switzerland didn’t go through with sending in the commandos.

“The Swiss army isn’t equipped for such risky operations, which have to be planned in incredible detail. Failure could end in disaster,” said Albert Stahel from the Institute for Strategic Studies in Zurich.

The centre-right Radical Party security committee parliamentarian Peter Malama added that Libya’s reaction “would have been impossible to predict”.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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