December 28, 2013 10:44 am -

Four U.S. military personnel were held for four hours and then released by Libya’s Interior Ministry.

The four were believed to have been reviewing potential evacuation routes for diplomats when they were detained, according to the initial reports received by officials in Washington. The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said they were working on “security preparedness efforts” when they were taken into custody. The area where they were said to have been detained is not far from the main road to the Tunisian border from Tripoli, the capital.

After running into a problem at a checkpoint — many of which are run by local militias — they were detained and later moved to the Ministry of the Interior, said administration officials who asked not to be identified because they were discussing internal reports…

The area where the Americans were said to have been detained is controlled mainly by local tribes, not the central government, which is relatively weak even in its own capital. And in the Libyan context, it is easy to imagine that a foreigner with a diplomatic passport and a gun who was stopped at a checkpoint would be presumed to be a spy and therefore detained.

Cheston Catalano