Britons in aid convoy briefly kidnapped in Libya

BENGHAZI, Libya Thu Mar 28, 2013 6:24pm EDT

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BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Five British nationals who were part of an aid convoy passing through Libya on the way to Gaza were briefly kidnapped by an armed group, and one was sexually assaulted, security officials said on Thursday.

The incident happened in the eastern city of Benghazi early on Wednesday morning and the group was released several hours later. They were now with the Turkish consul in Benghazi, Libyan security officials said.

"They were on their way to Benghazi airport when they were stopped shortly after passing a checkpoint manned by the national army. They were then led to a place where the crime happened," said a police official investigating the incident.

The official, based in Benghazi, said that one of the three women in the group had been sexually assaulted.

He said the group was part of a large convoy of cars taking aid to Gaza on a journey that had taken them through several countries including Morocco, Tunisia and then Libya.

It had intended to cross the border with Egypt but had not made it through the crossing. The official and Libyan activists said the five Britons had decided to return to Benghazi. Other convoy members were believed to be still near the border.

Libyan state news agency LANA quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Majdi al-Ourfi as saying four men had been arrested in connection with the incident. An army official said those arrested were believed to be former members of the security forces who were dismissed from their jobs a few months ago.

Benghazi, Libya's second biggest city, has seen frequent bouts of violence in recent months, including September's deadly attack on the U.S. mission in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

(Reporting by Ghaith Shennib; additional reporting by Ali Shuaib in Tripoli; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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