Swiss president: officials considered using force to free citizens detained in Libya

Monday, June 21, 2010

Swiss mulled using force to free citizens in Libya

GENEVA — Switzerland’s president said Monday that officials considered using force to free two Swiss citizens who were detained in Libya for more than a year.

Swiss media reported last week that the Foreign Ministry’s secret plans to use special forces or intelligence agents to free Rachid Hamdani and Max Goeldi sparked a row when they were disclosed to the Cabinet.

President Doris Leuthard condemned the leaks to the media but said officials had rightly contemplated all options to free Rachid Hamdani and Max Goeldi.

“That the relevant authorities considered the possible use of security forces in a hostage situation is correct and cannot be criticized,” she said at a news conference in Bern.

The Cabinet was informed of the plans on Feb. 3 and requested that the foreign and defense ministries provide a full report to the government, said Leuthard.

A parliamentary panel will examine the rescue plans as part of a wider probe into the government’s handling of what has become known as the Gadhafi affair.

Moammar Gadhafi’s son and daughter-in-law were arrested in July 2008 for allegedly beating their servants in a Geneva hotel. The couple were later released without charge, but the incident sparked a diplomatic row between Libya and Switzerland.

Tripoli suspended visas for Swiss citizens, withdrew funds from Swiss banks, stopped oil shipments, reduced flights to Switzerland, and detained Hamdani and Goeldi on immigration charges.

Zurich daily Tages-Anzeiger, citing persons familiar with the plans, reported that Swiss intelligence agents were twice close to conducting a rescue operation that never took place. Officials even considered flying the men out with a small plane or hiring a British security company to free them, the newspaper reported.

The rescue plans were never acted upon. Hamdani was acquitted and released in February. Goeldi was allowed to leave June 13 after serving a four-month sentence.

Leuthard provided no details of the plans, saying they concerned “matters of highest secrecy,” and declined to take questions after reading a brief statement.

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