01:23 - Source: CNN
American detainees in Libya released

Story highlights

Four U.S. military personnel were believed detained by the interior ministry, an official said

The four were augmenting security at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, the 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.

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.

It was not immediately known why the American personnel were in Libyan custody. “We are seeking to further ascertain the facts and ensure their release,” the official said.

The four were in Libya “augmenting security at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli,” the official said.

A second person – a senior U.S. official – also told CNN that the four military personnel had been detained. That official also spoke 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.

A NATO air campaign helped overthrow Gadhafi two years ago, but ever since there has been widespread unrest and poor security.

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 the capture a kidnapping and demanded an explanation from Washington about the raid.

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