Mehmet Demir and Volkan Altinok worked in a restaurant in Kasr Bin Gashir town, south of capital Tripoli, Turkish sources say. Turkey says the "espionage" claim is preposterous.

Turkey strongly rejects the espionage claims and calls it social media trolling.
Turkey strongly rejects the espionage claims and calls it social media trolling. (TRTWorld)

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar's forces have detained two Turkish citizens on charges of spying, a claim Turkey strongly rejected, sources said on Wednesday.

Turkish sources said Mehmet Demir and Volkan Altinok worked in a restaurant in Kasr Bin Gashir town located south of capital Tripoli before the eastern-based Libyan National Army detained them.

Pro-Haftar media labelled the duo, who remained missing for nearly two weeks, potential spies. Turkey strongly rejected the espionage claims and called it social media trolling. 

According to Turkish media, both men were detained on April 12 and jailed in a prison near Benghazi. 

TRT World's Andrew Hopkins has more on the story. 

Who is Haftar?

A powerful rebel warlord, Khalifa Haftar has had an ever-shifting position in Libya's political landscape.

Born in 1943, in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Haftar was one of the officers led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in the 1969 coup, which deposed King Idris from his throne.

Haftar gained Gaddafi's trust and was soon tasked with leading Libyan forces in the conflict with Chad in the 1980s.

The Chadian conflict marked a schism between both men as Gaddafi disowned Haftar after the latter was defeated and captured by French-backed Chadian forces in 1987.

After trying to lead an anti-Gadaffi rebellion from various African countries, in 1990 the CIA negotiated a settlement for Haftar to move to the United States under the US refugee programme.

Failed coup against Gaddafi 

Haftar spent the next two decades incessantly trying to topple Gaddafi from power – from exile in his home in Virginia to CIA headquarters. 

This included a failed coup attempt against Gaddafi in the Jabal Akhdar mountains of eastern Libya in 1996, after which he moved back to suburban Virginia.

The bulk of the accusations against Haftar suggest that he worked with the CIA to topple Gaddafi.

His return to Libya following the 2011 uprising took many Libyans by surprise, and has since changed the dynamics of what remains a civil conflict marred by allegations of human rights abuses.

Source: TRT World