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UK reporters probed over spying in Libya

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Two British journalists working for Iran's Press TV, who were detained late last month in Libya, are suspected of being spies, the head of the militia which is holding them said.

Faraj al-Swehli, commander of the Swehli brigade, said on Sunday his men had found among the journalists' possessions official Libyan documents, equipment used by the Israeli military and footage of them firing weapons.

He said it was believed the men were spies but it was too early to say what country they were spying for.

"Their movements were suspicious and because of that we decided to watch and follow them," al-Swehli said at a news conference in Tripoli.

"We will give them to the intelligence service who will pursue the legal process against them," he added.

The two journalists have been named as Nicholas Davies and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson. They were arrested on February 22 in Misrata, about 200 kilometres east of the capital. They are now being held in a Swehli brigade base in central Tripoli.

Al-Swehli said the two did not have Libyan entry visas in their passports.

He showed a grey plastic packet containing a field dressing with the words "Made in Israel" on it, which he said had been found on the two journalists.

He also said the two had in their possession Libyan documents listing members of a Tripoli militia killed in a clash with a rival group late last year, and lists of sub-Saharan African mercenaries who fought alongside the forces of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Images recovered

Swehli showed the news conference images he said had been recovered from the two journalists where they could be seen test-firing a gun.

An official from Misrata told the news conference investigators had also found pornography on the journalists’ laptops, but that it could not be shown for reasons of decency.

Other footage appeared to show the journalists late at night in Tripoli's Algiers Square, dancing to Western pop music coming from a car's sound system.

Reporters who covered Libya’s conflict routinely entered the country without going through normal border procedures, collected documents found on the battlefield, and took pictures of themselves posing with weapons to keep as mementoes.

The militia holding the two Britons is one of dozens in Libya which helped topple Gaddafi but is now operating beyond the control of the new national authorities.

They are resisting government requests for them to disarm.

Swehli, the militia commander, said the two men were being well treated, and that they had been visited in detention by British consular officials and representatives from New York-based Human Rights Watch.

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, asked to comment on the spying accusations, said the office is providing consular assistance to the two men.

Press TV is based in Tehran and broadcasts around the world in English. It often employs journalists from English-speaking countries.


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