Seven Iranian Red Crescent workers who were abducted by an armed group in the Libyan city of Benghazi are being held and questioned by a local militia, a security official told AFP on Wednesday.
“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 on condition of anonymity.
The Shiite creed, the second largest denomination of Islam, is viewed by some as a heretical cult in Libya, where the majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.
“They will be released after the investigation is concluded,” said the official, adding that “the team is being treated well and has not been subjected to any abuse.”
The official did not name the brigade holding the Iranian team but noted that its members are reputed to be “Islamist extremists.”
Interior ministry official Wanas Sharif confirmed that “the Iranian Red Crescent team kidnapped in Benghazi is safe.”
On Tuesday, the Libyan Red Crescent reported that a seven-member delegation of the Iranian Red Crescent visiting the eastern city of Benghazi was abducted by gunmen in the middle of the night on the way to the Tibesti hotel.
Amnesty International on Wednesday called for the team’s release.
“The seven Iranian Red Crescent members must be allowed to go free,” Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said, urging the militia to grant them contact with the outside world.
“Their plight highlights the urgent need for the Libyan authorities to rein in armed militias who are operating out of control,” she added.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty, have repeatedy expressed concern over the continuation of arbitrary arrests and secret detention centres run by militias who fought last year against slain leader Kadhafi.
The Libyan Red Crescent said that the Iranian delegation had arrived on Monday at its invitation and that their visas were in order. It too has called for the Iranians’ release.