The Libyan government detained four American military personnel west of the capital Tripoli for several hours on Friday before releasing them from custody, US officials have said.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the four were operating in an area near Sabratha – 65 kilometres (40 miles) west of Tripoli – as part of “security preparedness efforts” when they were taken into custody.
“All four US military personnel being held in Libyan government custody have been released,” she said.
A US defense official said the Americans appeared to have been checking possible evacuation routes for the US embassy in Tripoli.
The four were supporting US Marine security forces protecting the embassy, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They were likely US special operations forces, which have been deployed to Libya.
An altercation apparently took place at the checkpoint, said the official. After they were detained, the Americans were transferred to the Ministry of the Interior and held for a few hours.
Later on Saturday, Libyan police and military officials said the four had been detained because they failed to stop at a checkpoint and were carrying weapons.
Passport pictures said to belong to the four were posted on Twitter. The identity of the Americans or the authenticity of those photos could not be immediately confirmed.
More than two years after the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, Libya is still in turmoil, with widespread insecurity, rival militias and a burgeoning autonomy movement in the country’s east.
Amid the disorder, US citizens have been targeted in several attacks by militants, most notably in a September 2012 assault on the US diplomatic mission at Benghazi, killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
In November, Secretary of State John Kerry and his British counterpart William Hague met in London with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and agreed to help Libya crack down on militia violence.
The Pentagon also said that the US military was prepared to train between 5,000 and 8,000 Libyan army troops at a base in Bulgaria. There were also plans to train a separate counter-terrorism unit, said Admiral William McRaven, commander of US Special Operations Command.
But Libya and the United States have also had disagreements: In October, US forces seized Nazih al-Ragye, better known by the cover name Abu Anas al-Libi, in Tripoli in connection with the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
The suspect was then moved to New York, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Libi's capture embarrassed the Libyan government, which denounced it as "kidnapping" and claimed it had not been given advance notice of the seizure
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-28