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Abductors of Egyptian diplomats in Libya demand release of militia commander

TRIPOLI, Libya - Kidnappers and their six Egyptian hostages in Libya urged the Egyptian authorities on Saturday to release a Libyan militia commander they are holding in exchange for the freedom of the hostages, all but one embassy staff and diplomats.

The demands were made through a phone call with Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya, hours after Egypt announced it was withdrawing embassy personnel from Tripoli, where the two diplomats, three staffers and another Egyptian national were abducted from their homes overnight.

Egypt had earlier reported that its administrative attache had been kidnapped in the Libyan capital late Friday. Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Asswad said four other Egyptian diplomats were snatched in the early hours of Saturday. Those kidnapped included the cultural attache al-Helali el-Sherbini, he added.

The abductions came hours after Libya's state news agency reported that Egyptian authorities had arrested Shaaban Hadiya, the commander of the Revolutionaries Operation Room militia. The Libyan government blamed the group for the abduction of Prime Minister Ali Zidan last year. It claims to answer to the army but is widely seen as operating independently.

El-Sherbini told Al-Arabiya: "We were taken from our houses," and added, "we are under tough conditions here ... we call upon the Egyptian authorities to end this situation."

One of the kidnappers, who identified himself as a "revolutionary," told the same network that authorities must let Hadiya to speak to them within half an hour and release him within 24 hours, otherwise the hostages will remain abducted.

Operation Room spokesman Adel al-Ghiryani also called on Egypt to release Hadiya, who he said had travelled there for medical reasons. Al-Ghiryani told The Associated Press that he has no idea why Hadiya was detained, and he denied his group was involved in the kidnapping of the diplomats.

"We have no relation with this issue," he said.

Egypt's state news agency says the embassy staffers were evacuated after the abductions. An airport official says that the military attache and other diplomats in the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli had arrived in Cairo with their families. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Kidnappings are rife in Libya, where the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi has left a security vacuum.

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