Rumors and online reports, led by the social media news outlet Libya Observer, claim that the Islamic State has abducted a North Korean doctor and his wife in Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. South Korean outlets have picked up the news, though no mainstream outlet has yet confirmed the identity of the victims or their location.
The Libya Observer posted the message on Facebook on Sunday claiming that a 60-year-old doctor who had been working in Jalu hospital, Sirte, had been kidnapped with his wife “after having finished their duty in Jalu hospital, while their car driver was released yesterday.” The report appears to be based on “a source from inside the hospital” who is not identified and describes the doctor as a years-long employee there. The couple was allegedly in a cab on the way to the capital, Tripoli, when they were abducted. Their driver was freed.
Korean outlets, such as NK News and the Korea Times, picked up the story. Yonhap, a major news outlet in South Korea, also wrote of the alleged kidnapping, adding an additional source’s testimony to the story. Someone described as “a source familiar with the matter” described the news as a “rumor” and confirmed that it had been spreading in Sirte. Yonhap added that an estimated 300-400 North Koreans live in Libya.
Late dictators Kim Jong-il and Muammar Qaddafi were public allies, and Kim banned any news of his death from entering North Korea for weeks until illegal leaflets dropped in Pyongyang spread the news. He also banned any North Korean citizens working in Libya from returning to North Korea, reportedly to prevent the news of Qaddafi’s gruesome demise from spreading–and potentially spreading hope–among North Koreans. North Koreans in Egypt and Tunisia, nations deep in the throes of the Arab Spring at the time, from coming home.
Qaddafi no longer rules Sirte, but nor does the Islamist government of Tripoli, nor the internationally recognized, democratically elected Libyan government in Tobruk. The Islamic State captured the harbor city officially last week, though it was considered under de facto ISIS control as early as March. The first move ISIS sympathizers made upon capturing the city in March was to kidnap 20 doctors and nurses, reportedly to use their expertise to heal the wounded terrorists among them.
The abduction of North Korean citizens by a radical Islamist group in such a way would be barely precedented, and it is difficult to predict how North Korea would respond–if at all, given that it has abandoned citizens in Libya before. While the nation has taken the opportunity to criticize the United States over its actions in the Middle East against the Islamic State, ISIS-affiliated terrorists have attacked North Korean websites, and, as a Marxist atheist nation, North Korea would be seen as an enemy of Sharia. Similarly, just as China has cracked down on Muslim Uyghur minority members in response to the threat from the Islamic State, declaring Islam antithetical to Maoist ideals, so, too, do ISIS’s goals conflict with the Kim Jong-un regime.