A woman who was beaten and carted away by plainclothes security officials after she told journalists she had been brutally gang-raped by Moammar Kadafi's militiamen remained missing Sunday even as she became a worldwide symbol of defiance against the regime.
A government official said Iman Obeidi was safe, free and with her family but provided no proof to back up his statement. The Libyan official, Musa Ibrahim, described the woman as a single mother and alleged she was a prostitute with a long criminal record. He said her accusation of rape was being investigated by law enforcement officials. One of the four accused is the son of a high-ranking security official, he said.
"This is her line of work," Ibrahim said. "She knows the boys for years. She goes out with them for business. She has a whole file of petty theft and prostitution."
But people claiming to be relatives of the woman, in her late 20s or early 30s and a member of a large eastern tribe, described her to Western journalists variously as a lawyer, law student and a travel agent with blood ties to opposition figures. None of their claims could be verified.
Images of Obeidi, struggling with Libyan security officials and staff at a hotel where Western journalists are staying, were broadcast around the world. Several Facebook pages and online petitions have been launched in her behalf. A group of women in the rebel-controlled eastern city of Benghazi protested Sunday to demand her release.
Her case has also generated a buzz in Tripoli, the capital, where residents watched the video on Arabic channels. "Everyone is talking about it, but no one can talk," said one man in the Old City. "We all believe her."