TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan authorities released on Tuesday 90 members of an Al Qaeda-affiliate from a Tripoli prison after they denounced violence, a government-backed charity said.
The released were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group which purportedly has links to the Al Qaeda terror network. They were convicted to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment, but most had already spent between six to eight years behind bars.
The group has long been accused in Libya of plotting to overthrow the country's autocratic leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The release was mediated by the Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations, an organization funded by the government and chaired by Seif al-Islam, the eldest son of Libyan leader.
It followed two months of talks between the charity and the group's imprisoned leaders. The charity said those released represent a third of the group's members held in Libyan prisons.
The group, also known by its acronym LIFG, recently joined Al Qaeda's ranks, according to an audio tape released on the Internet last November and attributed to the terror network's second-in-command, Aymen Al-Zawahri.
"All the released have denounced violence," Saleh Abdul-Salam, director of the Libyan charity organization, said Tuesday. "The foundation will help them in finding work and integrating better into society."
Al-Islam's foundation, named after Gadhafi, has pushed for the release of those imprisoned LIFG members who showed "willingness to assimilate into the society."
Abdul-Salam said "long talks and discussions" preceded release and that "thinkers and clerics" took part in these talks "inside and outside Libya."
One of the released from the capital's Abu Salim prison, Noureddin Ragab, told reporters he was arrested as a suspected LIFG member but that he stands "against violence."
"Our religion and our society do not accept violence," he said.
Talks are still ongoing with other LIFG members who are in jail to get them to renounce violence as well, a prison official said speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media. "Anyone who announces his denunciation of violence will be released," said the official.
It was not clear when and how the militants were captured, or when they stood trial.
"I have spent eight years in prison so far," another of the released, Fadlallah Abu-Bakr, said. "Now, I feel reborn."