Skip to main content

Libya says U.S. military personnel drove off from checkpoint

By Barbara Starr and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
December 28, 2013 -- Updated 2234 GMT (0634 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The four people were held for several hours before being released, an official says
  • The Americans had driven away from checkpoint, a Libyan official says
  • The four were augmenting security at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, a U.S. official said
  • They were believed detained by the Interior Ministry, an official said

Washington (CNN) -- The Libyan government on Saturday defended its brief detention of four U.S. military personnel in western Libya, saying they were taken into custody after two vehicles in an American convoy sped off from a checkpoint.

When the three-vehicle convoy was stopped Friday near al-Aijalat, officials discovered that one of the vehicles carried two Americans who were armed, said Abdulfattah Saleh, director of national security in the department of Sabratha, about 50 miles west of Tripoli.

As the two were being questioned, the other cars in the convoy drove off, Saleh said. One of the vehicles that drove off caused an accident, he said.

The two who were being questioned as well as two occupants of the vehicle involved in the accident were detained and handed over to the Interior Ministry, Saleh said.

The four were detained for hours Friday before being released, U.S. officials said.

Earlier Saturday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. officials were "still trying to ascertain the facts of the incident."

The four were in Libya "augmenting security at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli," a State Department official told CNN late Friday on condition of anonymity.

The detentions followed the U.S. announcement last month that it was stepping up military support for Libya's fledgling security forces, which have been overwhelmed by militia violence and unrest since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Popular sentiment against the various militias has been mounting for months in Tripoli and other parts of the country, including the eastern city of Benghazi, where increasing violence has included assassinations.

On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

The United States has offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved in that attack. While U.S. authorities have filed charges in the case, no one has been arrested.

The detention of the four personnel followed reports of a U.S. military operation in October that saw members of the Army's elite Delta Force launch a raid in Tripoli that captured Abu Anas al Libi, an alleged al Qaeda operative wanted for his role in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Libya's interim government called his capture a kidnapping and demanded an explanation from Washington.

"We value our relationship with the new Libya," Psaki said. "We have a strategic partnership based on shared interests and our strong support for Libya's historic democratic transition."

Barbara Starr reported from Washington and Chelsea J. Carter wrote from Atlanta; CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 2232 GMT (0632 HKT)
ISIS has slaughtered hundreds. Now nearly 40 nations have agreed to take the fight to the militants. But what can they do?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0420 GMT (1220 HKT)
For years, Morten Storm moved between two worlds. A radical Islamist turned double agent is lifting the lid on some of the world's best-kept secrets.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
ISIS has captured the minds of a new generation of global jihadists. What does it mean for al Qaeda?
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0851 GMT (1651 HKT)
North Korea calls its human rights a "superior system."
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0512 GMT (1312 HKT)
In Wenzhou, called the "Jerusalem of China," authorities have demolished churches.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 0338 GMT (1138 HKT)
Treated with all due respect, volcanoes can offer some stunning vistas. Just don't fall in.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 0522 GMT (1322 HKT)
The blogger, the hacker, the PM... and Kim Dotcom? New Zealand's election campaign erupts in scandal.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 0236 GMT (1036 HKT)
In the aftermath of that deadly day, the enemy quickly became clear. But now a plurality of extremist threats tests global resolve.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Soviets put stray dogs into orbit. Then, next thing you know...
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT)
Her name is Thokozile Matilda Masipa, and she is the woman who will rule whether Oscar Pistorius is a murderer.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT