x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Iranians held by Libyan militia

Red Crescent workers quizzed as blast rocks spy base in Benghazi.

BENGHAZI, Libya // Seven Iranian Red Crescent workers abducted in Benghazi are being held and questioned by a local militia.

"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," a security official said yesterday. "They will be released after the investigation is concluded."

He added that "the team is being treated well and has not been subjected to any abuse".

Wanas Sharif, an interior ministry official, confirmed that "the Iranian Red Crescent team kidnapped in Benghazi is safe".

The Shiite creed is viewed as a heretical cult by some in Libya, where the majority of the population is Sunni.

The Libyan Red Crescent announced on Tuesday that the seven-member delegation visiting the eastern city of Benghazi had been abducted by gunmen in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile, an explosion thought to have been caused by a bomb ripped through the military intelligence building in Benghazi at dawn yesterday. The building and some nearby homes were damaged but no one was killed or injured, a security official said.

The blast happened hours after gunmen stormed a jail in Benghazi and freed the Islamist militant, Salem Al Obeidi, the suspected killer of the former rebel chief, Abdel-Fattah Younis, according to another security official.

Younis was Muammar Qaddafi's interior minister until he joined the anti-regime uprising last year. He was killed in July last year.

The incidents in Benghazi underline Libya's tenuous security situation nearly a year after Qaddafi's was deposed.

Former rebels who have refused to lay down their arms act as the de facto government in many parts of the vast nation.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse