Bedouin tribal chiefs fight trafficking gangs
Frederik Pleitgen and Mohammed Fadel Fahmy report for CNN:
The area of Al Mehdia near Egypt’s border with Israel is a lawless place even by Northern Sinai’s standards.
There is no police force and a military offensive launched recently after a deadly string of militant attacks on Egyptian border guards, has not stopped the illicit trade that flourishes in this area.
… Last year CNN visited the region as part of the Freedom Project spotlighting the depths that the traffickers have sunk. Now we revisit the remote region to see Bedouins tackling the trafficking on their doorstep.
Al Mehdia is an area that thrives on smuggling, including a human cargo of African refugees who are trying to make it to Israel in the hope of finding a better life there.
They are the poorest of the poor. Coming mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, many fall into the clutches of brutal human traffickers who hold them captive and demand huge ransoms.
They endure torture and rape, and if they cannot find someone to pay the ransom they are often killed.
Al Mehdia is dotted with torture camps run by Bedouin gangs. The trade is lucrative. The traffickers demand between $35,000 and $60,000 for the release of a captive.
In the past, some of those who could not pay have had vital organs removed, which the Bedouin gangs then sold to corrupt doctors.
But now, a band of Bedouin tribal chiefs have started to fight back against the people smugglers.
Sheikh Mohammed Abu Billal, a powerful chief from the Sawarka tribe, is leading the charge.
Mohammed is a Salafist – a radical form of Islam – but he is also deeply humanitarian in his beliefs. “What the traffickers are doing is against the will of God,” Mohammed told me when I recently visited him in Al Mehdia.
Mohammed has set up a safe house where African refugees who escape the torture camps are brought and given protection from the human traffickers.