Libya on Friday released four members of the militant Palestinian group Hamas who had been arrested in 2016 on charges including arms trafficking to the Gaza Strip after Turkey’s “mediation,” Arab News reported, citing Libyan media.
The four men — Marwan Al-Ashqar, his son Baraa, Mouayad Abed and Nasib Choubeir — were arrested in Tripoli in October 2016.
Their arrest was made public a few months later by the Libyan public prosecutor’s office.
In February 2019, they were sentenced to prison terms of between 17 and 22 years by a court in Tripoli on charges of arms trafficking and espionage, according to Libyan media.
Upon their release on Friday, several Libyan media outlets reported that the men were released at the request of the Libyan prosecutor’s office following Turkish mediation.
There was no immediate official confirmation of their release, not even from the government of Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah in Tripoli.
According to reports, the four men, who were detained in the Mitiga detention center in Tripoli, traveled first to Turkey and then to Qatar, where the political leadership of Hamas is located.
Al-Jazeera: At Turkey's request, Libya freed 4 Hamas operatives who had been imprisoned in Tripoli for the last 8 years, and they have already arrived in Istanbul. Turkey backs the Tripoli-based GNU (Government of National Unity), one of the factions vying for control of Libya.… pic.twitter.com/uGMEg8gcrJ
— Waleed Rikab, PhD (@waleedrikab) December 2, 2023
A picture shared on social media showed three men in what appeared to be a private jet.
Their alleged release comes against the backdrop of almost eight weeks of war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The fighting was triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 in which, according to the Israeli authorities, around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and around 240 taken hostage.
According to the Hamas government in Gaza, more than 15,000 people were killed in the Israeli retaliatory strikes, also mostly civilians.
Libya has been in chaos since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. It is divided between the United Nations-backed government of Dbeibah in the west and a rival government in the east, which is supported by military leader Khalifa Haftar.