A priest and a witness say masked gunmen in central Libya have kidnapped 20 Coptic Christians from Egypt.

Witness Hanna Aziz told The Associated Press that the gunmen in the Libyan city of Sirte went room by room in their residence at 1 a.m. Saturday and asked for identification papers to separate Muslim workers from Christians. Aziz says the gunmen handcuffed and drove away with the Christians.

Abu Makar, a Coptic priest in the workers' hometown of Samalout in southern Egypt, confirmed the abduction took place. He said seven other Coptic Christians from Samalout were taken trying to escape Sirte a few days earlier.

Sirte has become a safe haven for extremist Islamist groups like Ansar al-Shariah, blamed for the 2013 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.