TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya freed 37 prisoners late on Tuesday, including at least one former detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, who had been jailed for links to radical Islamist groups but have since renounced violence.
The prisoners were kissed and hugged by waiting relatives when they walked out of the Abu Salim prison near Tripoli, in the latest in a series of releases designed to draw a line under radical Islamist violence in Libya.
“These releases come in the context of national reconciliation and social peace,” said Mohamed al Allagi, chairman of the human rights committee of the Gaddafi Foundation, the charity which helped organize the release.
The charity is headed by Saif al-Islam, a reform-minded son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who some analysts say could eventually succeed his father.
Saif al-Islam has campaigned for reconciliation with Islamists who promise to lay down their arms. His initiative has met resistance from conservatives in his father’s entourage with whom he is competing for influence.
The 37 prisoners, all dressed in traditional Libyan costume, were given refreshments in a tent inside the prison grounds before being greeted by relatives, many of whom were in tears, said a Reuters reporter at the prison.
Five of the prisoners had links to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which tried to overthrow Gaddafi but whose leaders have since renounced violence, said Abdelhakim Belhadj, a former LIFG leader freed earlier this year.
Belhadj said the rest of the prisoners released Tuesday had been detained because they sympathized with Islamist militant movements, but were not LIFG members.
Belhadj was among about 200 former Islamist militants who were freed from Abu Salim prison in March, in another release organized by Saif al-Islam’s foundation.
One of the prisoners released Tuesday, Sofiane Ibrahim Gammu, said he was detained in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay for six years before serving a further three years in Abu Salim prison.
Media reports had earlier quoted an official in the Gaddafi Foundation as saying Gammu was a former driver for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Asked about the allegation as he left the prison Tuesday night, Gammu said: “I am not bin Laden’s driver. It’s a misunderstanding.”
More than 700 prisoners accused of having ties to Islamist militant groups have now been released under the reconciliation program, but over 300 are still behind bars, according to figures given by Libyan officials.
Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Tim Pearce