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Abductors of 14 Tunisians want Libyan prisoner freed

Armed men who abducted 14 Tunisians in Libya have demanded the release of a man jailed in Tunisia for drug trafficking, in a video released on Sunday on social media.

The video, verified by a Tunisian source close to the case, shows the abductees identifying themselves and naming their hometowns while sitting on mattresses. The last one then says that the people holding them want the release of Libyan Kamal al-Lafi al-Hijaoui, adding that he and the other abductees were “in good health”.

The Tunisian source said that Hijaoui was sentenced earlier this month in Tunisia to 20 months in prison for drug trafficking. The 14 Tunisians were abducted on Thursday in Zawiya, a town just west of the Libyan capital Tripoli, as they were heading to work by bus in an oil refinery.

The bus driver was also kidnapped but then released, a security source in the town said. According to the Tunisian foreign minstry, the abductees were still in Zawiya and in good health. “Negotiations continue,” said its head of communications, Limam Bouraoui.

Zawiya is held by armed groups, including some who are involved in people-smuggling rings or the contraband sale of fuel. Abductions are common in Libya, which has been mired in chaos since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

The kidnappings are usually carried out by armed groups which demand a ransom. In June 2015, 10 Tunisian consular staff were abducted by a militia. They were eventually released in exchange for one of its members who was held in Tunis.

Libya’s interior ministry has set up a “crisis cell” in response to the latest abductions.

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