Libya violence: Seized Coptic Christians 'freed' in Libya

Thirteen Coptic Christian workers from Egypt have been freed after being seized in Libya, an official said.

On Saturday, eyewitnesses in the northern city of Sirte said gunmen took the Christian men in the middle of the night from a residential compound.

But a tribal leader reportedly insisted on Monday that they had been detained by people smugglers, not kidnapped.

The incident was the latest in a series of recent attacks on Egyptian Christians working in Libya.

Local residents said the masked gunmen had separated the Christians from the Muslims before handcuffing them and taking them away in cars.

The Egyptian authorities have not confirmed the release, first reported by Libya's al-Wasat news website.

'Dispute over money'

Muftah Marzuq, head of the council of elders in the coastal city of Sirte, said the men were released after negotiations between the gunmen and local officials.

"The Egyptians were held by a group that deals in illegal people smuggling, because of a dispute involving money and transportation to the Harawa region east of Sirte," the AFP news agency quoted Mr Marzuq as saying.

News of their disappearance emerged when a source close to the government accused Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia of having kidnapped the 13 Christians.

The incident came just a few days after seven other Coptic Christians from Egypt were reportedly abducted at a fake checkpoint in Sirte as they tried to leave the city.

Mr Marzuq made no mention of the earlier kidnapping.

In early December, there was also an attack on the home of an Egyptian Coptic doctor in Sirte, in which he and his wife were killed. Local reports said the couple's daughter was also found dead after being abducted.

Libya is home to a large community of both Muslim and Coptic Egyptians, with most working in the construction sector.

The country has been plagued by instability and infighting since the toppling of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Rival militias now control most of the country including the two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, and Sirte has become a safe haven for Islamist fighters.