TRIPOLI, (AP) — Libya on Thursday freed 88 Islamists with Al-Qaeda links from Abu Slim prison in Tripoli, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.
“45 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and 43 members of other jihadist groups were freed thanks to the efforts of the Islamic Foundation,” lawyers’ groups said in a joint statement with the Foundation, headed by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam.
“Apart from the LIFG members, the other people freed were former Al-Qaeda members who were active in Afghanistan or Iraq,” Saleh Saleh Abdessalem, an aide to Seif al-Islam, told AFP.
Gathered in the prison courtyard, the detainees met journalists before greeting their families amid ululation by women and cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest). Some broke down in tears in front of their children, wives and relatives.
Ibrahim Buhlig, 35, is free after 11 years in prison. He told AFP he left Libya at the age of 16 to fight against Russian troops in Afghanistan. He was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 1998, then extradited to Libya.
According to Abu Hachem, his nom-de-guerre, the release programme followed “talks with Seif al-Islam through the intermediary of (Libyan cleric) Ali Sallabi.”
The Kadhafi Foundation said it is “working to strengthen peace in Libya,” emphasising the “big success” of the dialogue with the LIFG, formed in secret in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and which came to public notice in 1995 when it launched an armed campaign against Kadhafi’s regime.
Al-Qaeda announced in November 2007 that the LIFG had joined the jihadist network.
The men’s release comes at a time when Seif al-Islam is reportedly being proposed for Libya’s second most important job, “coordinator of social and popular committees,” a position equivalent to head of state.