RABAT (Reuters) - Libya will keep up to 300 al Qaeda members in prison indefinitely after they have completed their jail sentences 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.
The group’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.
As part of the policy of reconciliation with the Islamists — in which Gaddafi’s reform-minded son Saif al-Islam played a prominent role — Libya has freed 150 prisoners in several batches over the past four years.
Analysts say Saif al-Islam is engaged in a struggle with an old guard of conservatives, including some in his father’s entourage, for control over the levers of power in Libya.
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 declared innocent by the courts.
“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.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report in December last year saying that some prisoners were kept behind bars with no legal grounds for their detention.