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Iranian Red Crescent workers freed in Libya

A group of seven Iranian Red Crescent workers who were kidnapped in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi more than two months ago were freed on Saturday, an interior ministry official told AFP. "The seven Iranians were freed today and have left the country," said Ezzedine al-Fazzani, a spokesman for the interior ministry in the east.

A Libyan Red Crescent official, Qais al-Fahry, confirmed the team "was released today and left Benghazi for Turkey," from where they would continue on to Iran. "They were in good health and happy to be heading home," he said. The team left from Benghazi's Benina International Airport, he added. Gunmen kidnapped the visiting delegation on July 31, the Libyan Red Crescent said in a statement at the time, stressing that the delegation had come at its invitation and that their visas were in order.

The Iranians were heading to the Tibesti Hotel when an armed group intercepted them. They were loaded into a different vehicle and whisked away to an unknown location, the statement said. Their driver, a local volunteer, was not abducted. The organisation said the purpose of the visit was to discuss co-operation.

But on August 1, a security official told AFP that the Iranian group was being questioned by a local militia to determine whether its true mission was proselytising. "Members of the brigade holding the Iranians are questioning them to determine whether their activities and intentions aimed to spread the doctrine of Shiite Islam," the security official said. The official did not name the brigade holding the Iranian team, but noted that its members were reputed to be "Islamist extremists." Shortly after their capture, Tehran said it would hold the Libyan government responsible and urged their immediate release. "The Libyan government is responsible for their lives," deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012


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