'Islamists' hold hostages in restive city in Libya



`Islamists` hold hostages in restive city in Libya Tripoli: A group of "Islamist extremists" have taken hostage members of the security forces and civilians in a city of unrest-swept eastern Libya, a senior Libyan official said on Sunday.

"A group of Islamist extremists ... is holding hostage security elements and civilians, threatening to execute them unless a siege by security forces is lifted" in Al-Baida, the official said, asking not to be named.

The group calls itself "Islamic Emirate of Barqa," after the ancient name of a region of northwest Libya, he said.

Justice Minister Mustafa Abdeljalil started negotiations late on Saturday for the hostage-takers to release their captives, he said. "But we will not negotiate over Libya's integrity under any circumstances."

The official said the same group was responsible for the hanging of two policemen in al Qaeda on Friday that was reported in Oea newspaper.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 23 people have died in Al-Baida since Tuesday in clashes between security forces and protesters against the four-decade rule of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Libya has over the past five years freed around 850 prisoners from different Islamist groups, 360 of them since March. Among those released were jihadists with ties to al Qaeda's Iraqi and North African franchises, including senior members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) such as its chief Abdelhakim Belhaj.

In November 2007, al Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri allegedly said the LIFG had joined his network, in an unverified audio recording posted online.

But the Kadhafi Foundation headed by Seif al-Islam, son of Kadhafi, said in 2008 that Islamists held in Libyan prisons and previously linked to al Qaeda had renounced their ties.

PTI