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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - The Libyan government on Thursday released 88 members of radical Islamist groups jailed for plotting to topple the government of Muammar Gaddafi, the country's main charity said.
"We congratulate all advocates of human rights issues on the release of 45 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and 43 members of various other Jihadist groups," said the Human Rights Association in a statement.
The association is part of the powerful Gaddafi Foundation which is chaired by the Libyan leader's son Saif al Islam.
The 88 detainees walked through the gates of Abu Salim prison to the embraces families and friends, witnesses said.
"The release crowned the efforts of Saif al Islam," the Association Chief Executive Salah Abdessalam told Reuters.
Human rights groups say Libyan security forces killed 1,200 prisoners in 1996 in Abu Salim, located on the outskirts of Tripoli, amid widespread fighting between the army and LIFG militants in several towns.
LIFG's leaders jailed in Abu Salim have been in talks with the authorities over the past two years to reach a deal under which the group renounces violence and its radical brand of Islam to win the release of its imprisoned members.
The authorities had released more than 130 members of the group in batches, political sources say.
Libyan newspapers reported that LIFG's jailed leadership issued last month a book they said was hailed by some Islamic scholars as "opening a new window" to promote a moderate Islamic view among Islamists.
Other Islamic scholars cast doubt about the intellectual legitimacy of the book, arguing that jailed LIFG leaders were not free to express their genuine thoughts.
LIFG staged bloody battles in city streets and the mountains in the 1990s, killing dozens of soldiers and policemen, as part of its attempts to overthrow Gaddafi.
According to Libyan political and security sources, al Qaeda had been courting LIFG to join its North Africa wing but most of the group's leadership opposed al Qaeda's global strategy and believed it was unlikely to bring about any change in Libya.
Political sources in Tripoli said that with Thursday's release, only some 40 LIFG and 11 other Jihadists were believed to remain in Libyan prisons. (Reporting by Salah Sarrar and Writing by Lamine Ghanmi; Editing by Diana Abdallah)

Reuters