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Kidnapped Ukrainian Doctors Released -- But Can't Leave Libyan Town


Militants who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State now control some territory in Libya. (file photo)

Militants who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State now control some territory in Libya. (file photo)

A group of 15 Ukrainian doctors captured by Islamic State (IS) militants in a hospital in the Libyan city of Sirte on March 16 were released a day later, on March 17, according to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry.

The 15 Ukrainians were part of a group of 20 foreigners who were captured when 30 gunmen stormed the Ibn Sina hospital where they work. According to CNN, the 20 workers were waiting for a bus to take them from Sirte to Tripoli, Libya's capital.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its website that the 15 Ukrainian doctors had been leaving the city because of the deteriorating security situation.

The ministry said that the Ukrainian citizens had been released after "operational measures" taken by its officials, and the Ukrainian Embassy in Libya.

The ministry noted that Kyiv had called on the relevant authorities in Libya to ensure the safety of Ukrainians in the country and to help facilitate their return to Ukraine should they so wish.

According to the ministry, officials from the Ukrainian diplomatic mission in Libya are in contact with the doctors, and are attempting to help them secure their departure from the country.

It is as yet unclear whether the doctors will be able to depart. Reports say that, although the Islamic State militants released the 20 kidnapped doctors, they have told them to stay in the area.

An official from the Ibn Sina hospital told CNN that the workers were sent to their homes near the medical facility. An Uzbek doctor, who was among those kidnapped by the militants, reportedly said that the gunmen told him he would be safe as long as he did not leave Sirte and treated any wounded militants.

The kidnapping of the 20 foreign doctors in Sirte highlights the deteriorating situation in the Libyan coastal city, as clashes between Islamic State militants and fighters loyal to the government in Tripoli continue.

Islamic State gunmen have taken over a number of buildings in Sirte, including the hospital, the university and several government buildings.

Dozens of families fled the city on March 15, heading west toward Misrata, a town controlled by the pro-government Libya Dawn group.

Among those fleeing were foreign medical professionals, according to a report by the Reuters news agency, which spoke to Serbian nurses. One of the nurses said that their manager had advised them to leave because of the ongoing fighting, while two others reported seeing IS militants who had not prevented them leaving Sirte.

A group of Libyan militants pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group's leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in October. Since then, the militants have gained control over the city of Derna near the border with Egypt, boosted by the return of around 300 militants who had been fighting in Syria and Iraq as part of the Islamic State group's Al-Battar brigade.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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