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Libyan Oil Field Hostages Include 9 Foreigners

FILE - Militants have been targeting Libyan oil fields and foreign workers. In this March 2014 photo, fighters under Libyan rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran guard the entrance to al-Ghani oil field, which they controlled at the time.

Officials on Monday confirmed that suspected Islamic State-backed gunmen took nine foreigners hostage last week in a raid on a Libyan oil field.

The hostages include four Filipinos, two Europeans, a Ghanian and at least one Bangladeshi, the International Business Times reported Monday. The London-based Independent said the European nationals were Austrian and Czech.

The attack took place Friday on the al-Ghani oil field south of the Libyan city of Sirte, officials said. The gunmen killed 11 guards, shooting or beheading them, before they were driven off.

"Foreigners from an Austrian oil services company operating in the field are still missing since the time of the attack," Mohamed el-Hariri, a spokesman for Libya’s state oil company, was quoted by The Independent as saying.

The Austrian company is VAOS.

Militants this month also stormed and damaged several Libyan oil fields around al-Ghani, forcing the government to pull out workers and shut down production on 11 oil fields in the central Sirte basin.

According to the IB Times, a Philippines foreign ministry spokesperson did not confirm any connection between the kidnapers and the Islamic State. At a press conference, the spokesperson said, "In view of this worsening situation, we appeal once again to the estimated 4,000-plus Filipinos who are still in Libya to get in touch with our embassy in Tripoli."

Foreigners targeted

Foreigners increasingly have been targeted in Libya, where two rival governments are battling for control and Islamist extremists have grown in the chaos that followed Moammer Gadhafi's ouster four years ago.

Countries including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and The Netherlands have closed their embassies.

Western governments are backing United Nations negotiations to end the crisis in Libya, worried that the large North African state just across the Mediterranean from mainland Europe is becoming a haven for Islamist militants.

Libyan militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have been blamed for high-profile attacks this year involving foreigners, including an assault on a Tripoli hotel and the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians.

U.N.-backed talks to form a unity government and a lasting cease-fire in Libya are continuing in Morocco. But both sides face internal splits over the negotiations and fighting between the two governments continues.

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