x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Tears of joy as Libya frees ex-militants

About 200 former Islamist militants walk out of Libya's most notorious jail after a release brokered by a son of the Libyan leader, Muammer Qadafi.

Former Islamist prisoners celebrate upon their release from jail in the Libyan capital of Tripoli yesterday.
Former Islamist prisoners celebrate upon their release from jail in the Libyan capital of Tripoli yesterday.

TRIPOLI // About 200 former Islamist militants yesterday walked out of Libya's most notorious jail, accompanied by relatives weeping with joy, after a release brokered by a son of the Libyan leader, Muammer Qadafi. Those freed included leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had ties to al Qa'eda but renounced militant thought in a book they released last year from their prison cells.

The release was part of a programme of reconciliation with militants who killed dozens of soldiers and police in the 1990s, and also represented a boost for reformers, led by Mr Qadafi's son Saif al Islam. Prison officials at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison gave the order for the huge metal entrance gate to be opened, allowing several hundred of the prisoners' relatives to pour in to the courtyard of the jail.

The prisoners and their relatives, some in tears, hugged and kissed and then they walked out together to return to their homes. "I am happy to welcome my son, Hossein, and take him back home," said Ali Alnwati. "My son spent many years in prison and wasted many things, so all young people in Libya must take a lesson from that," he said. More than 1,000 prisoners were shot dead in Abu Salim prison in June 1996. It has traditionally been used to imprison Islamist militants and, according to foreign-rights groups, people judged to have broken strict laws on dissent.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly denounced Libya's government for keeping "hundreds of people in prison even though they have finished their sentences", including "dissidents imprisoned after unfair trials". Journalists were invited into the prison courtyard, adorned with a fountain and patches of lawn, to watch the release. They were not given access to other parts of the prison where inmates are still being held.

The prisoners due for release were all dressed in freshly-laundered waistcoats and loosefitting trousers, a traditional Libyan outfit. Milling in the courtyard before their relatives were allowed in, the inmates sang, clapped and chanted: "This is the moment we have been waiting for!" Announcing the prisoner release on Tuesday, Saif said it brings the total of ex-militants freed under the reconciliation scheme to 705, with another 409 still behind bars.

He said he hoped the ex-militants would persuade Libyan insurgents still active in other countries, including neighbouring Algeria, to lay down their arms, and also encourage young Libyans to reject violence. * Reuters