American pilot shot down and held captive 6 weeks in Libya is freed

/ CBS News

An American pilot accused of being a mercenary in Libya's civil war was released this week after being held in the country for six weeks, CBS News has confirmed. Jamie Christopher Sponaugle, an Air Force veteran who reportedly crashed in Libya while flying a Mirage F-1 combat jet over army forces last month, was released on Tuesday.

According to The Washington Post, Sponaugle's plane went down on May 7 near the Libyan capital of Tripoli, when it was shot down by the Libyan National Army. The Libyan National Army is one of two factions vying for control of Libya following the bloody 2011 revolution that deposed Muammar Qaddafi, with the other being the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord.

Sponaugle was allegedly a mercenary flying for the Government of National Accord. Records show he had been on active duty from November 2006 to April 2013 as an enlisted airman who worked as an airspace technician. The Washington Post reports he was not a pilot while in the Air Force and earned his pilot's license following active duty service. He served on the Florida Air National Guard from December 2013 to February 2017.

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"We are always pleased to see Americans held captive overseas returned home to their friends and families," Ambassador Robert O'Brien told CBS News in a statement. O'Brien is the Trump Administration's envoy for hostage affairs. "We appreciate his captors' decision to release him. We also thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its role in resolving this case. Due to privacy concerns, we cannot comment further on the matter."

Sponaugle had been held captive for over six weeks and was flown to Saudi Arabia following his release to undergo psychological and medical evaluations. The Washington Post reports an individual familiar with the case said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman "took an interest in Sponaugle once Saudi officials learned he was being detained and asked subordinate officials to get involved."

First published on June 27, 2019 / 12:29 PM

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