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Four American service members freed from Libyan custody

Four members of the U.S. military were briefly held and later released by Libyan government forces at a checkpoint outside of Tripoli. NBC's Ayaman Mohyeldin reports.

Four U.S. military personnel were taken into custody Friday by Libyan authorities and held for several hours before being released Saturday morning, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department, confirmed that the four Americans were taken into "Libyan government custody" Friday.

The circumstances remained unclear Saturday, but U.S. officials told NBC News that the Americans were were conducting a standard review of evacuation routes when they were involved in an "incident" of some kind at a security checkpoint.

The service members were held at the Interior Ministry  — not by police or security forces — before they were eventually released, a U.S. official said Saturday.

Psaki said in a statement the State Department was still trying to “ascertain the facts of the incident.”

“We value our relationship with the new Libya,” she said. “We have a strategic partnership based on shared interests and our strong support for Libya's historic democratic transition.” 

The New York Times, citing U.S. officials, reported that the four Americans were assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, the capital. It said they appeared to have been detained southwest of Sabratha, about 40 miles from Tripoli.

Reuters reported that Libyan officials said the Americans were detained when part of their convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint and was found to be carrying weapons.

A White House official said on Saturday that President Barack Obama, who was vacationing in Hawaii, has been updated on the issue by the National Security Council staff.  

NBC News' Daniella Silva contributed to this report. 

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