RABAT (Reuters) - Libya will hold up to 300 al Qaeda members in jail indefinitely after they have completed their prison terms to stop them staging fresh attacks, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Thursday.
“These people are heretics. They are followers of (Osama) Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. They killed a number of civilians and police,” Gaddafi told a gathering of his top legislative body, referring to al Qaeda’s two global commanders.
“It is a necessity to keep them in prison. They are very dangerous as they are ready to resume killing people in our streets here or travel to Algeria or Egypt or elsewhere to stage attacks,” he said in remarks broadcast on state television and monitored in Rabat.
It was not immediately clear if Gaddafi’s comments marked an end to a government policy of seeking reconciliation with jailed leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a radical group with has had ties to al Qaeda.
A Libyan civic activist involved closely in negotiations between jailed Islamists and the government said he believed that the reconciliation talks would continue, but that Gaddafi was making clear it would be on his terms.
“Gaddafi’s tough tone is aimed as backing the government’s stand that only Islamists who accept the government’s line that no opposition to it will be tolerated, will be be freed from prison,” said the activist, who did not want to be named.
Reconciliation with radicals Islamists has been one of the bones of contention in a struggle for influence between a reform-minded camp represented by one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, and a conservative old guard.
That struggle also has focused on Libya’s lucrative energy sector, where international firms including BP and Exxon Mobile have invested billions of dollars.
Saif al-Islam has backed reconciliation efforts, and urged reform of Libya’s judicial system to make it fairer.
LIFG’s leaders wrote a 400-page renunciation of al Qaeda thinking last year, and the document was held up by some Islamic scholars as a model of how to turn radical young people away from joining violent militant groups.
The LIFG staged bloody battles in oil exporter Libya in the 1990s, killing dozens of soldiers and policemen in a failed attempt to topple Gaddafi.
Libyan security forces gradually crushed the rebellion at the end of the 1990s, killing scores of Islamist fighters, and jailing hundreds of others.
Some of the group’s figures fled to Afghanistan where they became close to Bin Laden and Zawahiri and took on the role of al Qaeda ideologues.
“Who would vouch for these 300 or 100 dangerous people not getting out of jail and starting again to kill innocent people in the streets and stage bombings?” Gaddafi told the General People’s Congress (GPC) at his home-town of Sirte.
Gaddafi made the comment on the prisoners after Justice Minister Mustapaha Abdeljalil had asked the Congress to accept his resignation.
He said he wanted to step down in protest at what he called the failure by the authorities to free detainees years after they had completed their prison sentences or been acquitted.
“These people constitute a danger even when the court had pronounced its verdict. Security authorities are the ones who are responsible for this matter to say whether they are dangerous or not. The court verdict is void of reason in such cases,” Gaddafi said.
Gaddafi also told the minister that the congress was not the right place to discuss his resignation.