Islamic militants among prisoners freed from Libyan jail
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — Hundreds of Islamist militants were among the prisoners freed from a notorious Tripoli prison this week, according to a former Libyan jihadist.
The freed militants had been imprisoned in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime during the height of the insurgency in Iraq, according to Noman Benotman, once a senior figure in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Benotman said he believes as many as 600 militants may have been among the prison population at Abu Salim.
It’s not known how many prisoners were held in the vast facility. Human Rights Watch said Gadhafi’s prisons “have been filled to the limit in the last few months with thousands of people who were arrested for taking part in the anti-Gadhafi protests, or because of their suspected support for Libya’s democratic opposition.”
The human rights group, which recently had a team visit the prison, estimates that before the uprising, there were a few hundred Islamists held at Abu Salim.
Benotman said many of the militants released are pro-al Qaeda.
“Nobody knows what these released prisoners are going to do next,” he said. “Will they take part in the fighting and if they do will they join pre-existing rebel brigades or form a separate fighting force?”
Benotman, now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation in London, said the freed prisoners are Salafists, embracing a puritanical interpretation of Islam that has gained ground in Libya in recent years.