Gadhafi loyalists say capture 17 foreign mercenaries

Updated: 2011-09-19 20:54

(Agencies)

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BENGHAZI/BANI WALID, Libya - Fugitive ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi's loyalists said on Monday they had captured 17 mercenaries -- some British and French -- in what would amount to a sharp setback for the country's new rulers and their international backers.

The claim by Gadhafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim could not be verified but comes at a time when the new authorities are facing stark reversals on the battlefield and in the political arena.

One month after Gadhafi was driven from power, his loyalists have beaten back repeated assaults by National Transitional Council forces at the town of Bani Walid and defied attempts to seize Gadhafi's home city of Sirte. The failed attempts to seize pro-Gadhafi bastions have sent NTC fighters fleeing in disarray.

The NTC, still based in the eastern city of Benghazi, has faced questions about whether it can unify a country deeply divided on tribal and local lines. A long-promised attempt to set up a more inclusive interim government fell apart overnight.

"A group was captured in Bani Walid consisting of 17 mercenaries. They are technical experts and they include consultative officers," Gadhafi spokesman Ibrahim said on Syria-based Arrai television, which has backed the ousted leader.

"Most of them are French, one of them is from an Asian country that has not been identified, two English people and one Qatari."

The French foreign ministry said it had no information about the report. The British foreign ministry said it was aware of media reports about the capture of mercenaries but was not able to substantiate them. Qatari officials were not immediately available for comment.

NATO, which is staging air strikes on Gadhafi loyalist positions, says it has no troops on the ground in Libya. However, Western nations have sent special forces in the past, and media have reported that private security firms have aided anti-Gadhafi forces in training, targetting and with leadership.