TRIPOLI, Libya -- Three female British activists of Pakistani origin were raped by Libyan pro-government militiamen in the eastern city of Benghazi, after joining an aid convoy bound for Gaza to break an Israeli blockade, officials from several countries confirmed on Friday.
Libyan deputy prime minister Awad al-Barassi, who visited the women in the hospital, said the victims were traveling with two male companions when they were kidnapped on Tuesday on their way to the Benghazi airport after deciding to return to Britain.
The overland convoy left Britain on Feb. 25, but was stuck for days along the Libyan-Egyptian border after Egyptian border guards refused to let them to cross.
Al-Barassi told Libya al-Hurra TV late Thursday that the women were in "very bad shape." Two of the women are sisters and their father witnessed the rape of the women, he said.
Their 10-vehicle convoy carrying medical supplies was named "Mavi Marmara" in honor of a ship involved in a 2010 deadly flotilla incident, according to Huseyin Oruc of IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief organization.
IHH was the group that helped organize the international flotilla that was attacked on May 31, 2010. Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara while stopping the flotilla that was trying to breach an Israeli blockade of Gaza. Eight Turks and a Turkish-American were killed, and dozens of activists and seven Israeli soldiers were wounded.
IHH mediated the release of the kidnapped women and men after they were contacted by the convoy's organizers and pled for help. The man and his daughters were scheduled to return to Britain on Friday, he said.
He said the women were attacked and robbed, and that their abductors included a taxi driver and a group of men in military uniforms.
Less than two years after the country's uprising-turned-civil war, Libya is struggling to build a unified army and police force amid increasingly powerful militias. The government depends on some of the militias to fill the security vacuum, but has struggled to control over their actions.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry condemned the attack and said that Pakistani embassy in Libya had lodged a strong protest with Libyan authorities
"A heinous crime has been committed against these female activists," he said, adding that he hoped stern action would be taken against the attackers.
Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement that it was aware of an incident involving British nationals who were part of an aid convoy. The office said the government was providing consular assistance, but it did not elaborate.
Associated Press Writers Jill Lawless in London, Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.