By Houda Mzioudet.
Tripoli, 20 April 2014:
Two Libyan Islamist militants whose freedom from jail in Tunisia is being demanded by the kidnappers . . .[restrict]of two staff members at the Tunisian embassy in Tripoli are “innocent victims” of a miscarriage of justice, according to Taha Shakshuki, President of the Libyan Prisoners Abroad Defence Committee. He says the two are being used as “scapegoats” by the Tunsian authorities for an incident in the northwestern Tunisian town of Rouhia in May 2011 in which four members of the Tunisian security forces died.
The two men, he accepted, were members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but “have no link to the Rouhiya events in which members from Tunisian army died”.
The group that abducted Aroussi Gontassi, advisor to Libyan ambassador in Tunisia, and Mohamed Ben Cheikh, the ambassador’s secretary, are reported to have demanded the release of the two Libyans from jail.
Shakshuki who visited them since their arrest on 17 May 2011, a day before the Rouhiya events, maintains the innocence of the two men who, he claims, “were incarcerated on trumped-up charges of entering Tunisian territory with non-valid passports, and being in possession of Kalashnikovs used to kill the Tunisian security forces. But the forensic evidence about the type of bullets that killed them went missing,” he said.
He also claimed that the pair were tortured in jail. They had, he said, been trained in Algeria but never “killed anyone” and they were in Tunisia to help in with the Libyan opposition that were there during the revolution.
Shakshuki said he hoped that the two Tunisian diplomats would be released soon, explaining that his committee was acting as “an intermediary to secure their release”. Both, he had heard, were in good health and were being well treated.
He believed their abduction was a reaction to the “continued detention of the two young men”. He hoped they too would soon “return to Libya safe”.
Exactly what is happening in terms of negotiations between the kidnappers and the Tunisians is far from clear. In an interview with Al Arabiya news, Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi said that Tunisia “will not bow to the kidnappers’ demands”.
That firm rejection is confirmed by diplomatic sources in Tripoli who claim that there have been contacts with the kidnappers but that Tunis had decided not to negotiate. [/restrict]