ISIS Libya Sirte
A fighter from Misrata shouts to his comrades as they move to fight Islamic State militants near SirteReuters

A group of Filipino nurses that were feared kidnapped by Islamic State (Isis) militants in Libya are safe, the Philippines government said.

The four were taken out of harm's way by a friend before fighting between the extremist group and rival militia engulfed the city of Sirte and its main hospital, Ibn Sina.

"Our embassy in Tripoli verified this information and the four Filipinos were not actually kidnapped," Charles Jose, a spokesman for the Filipino department of foreign affairs, told AP.

"They were actually taken from their accommodation to a safer place, and our charge d'affaires from our embassy has actually talked to one of them and they said they are safe."

Their abduction was initially reported by member of the 166th Battalion, a militia trying to wrestle control of Sirte from IS-linked groups, adding to fears for Christians in Libya.

A few thousand Filipinos, who are predominantly Roman Catholics, are living and working in Libya, according to the government.

In February, the bishop of Tripoli, Father Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, said about 300 Filipinos were the only remaining members of the once thriving Catholic Christian community in the capital.

The beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by IS militants on a beach near Tripoli in February convinced many of those to leave who had not already fled the fighting that has ridden the country since the overthrow of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Manila has banned its nationals travelling to work in Libya and has offered to repatriate all its nationals still there, Jose said, adding that about 4,000 have however decided to stay.

The country is locked in a three-way power-struggle pitting government forces against Libya Dawn, an umbrella group including radical and moderate Islamists, and IS affiliates.

The 166th Battalion is loyal to a Libya Dawn-baked government that was installed in Tripoli, after the group ousted the internationally recognised administration from the capital, forcing it to retreat to the eastern city of Tobruk.

The attack on Sirte has reportedly resulted in the death of one IS top field commander, Ahmed al-Rouissi.

The jihadist group said that al-Rouissi, who was high up on the most wanted list in neighbouring Tunisia for his role in the assassination of politicians there, was killed in clashes around the coastal city.

Tunisian authorities believed the militant was the mastermind of the murders of left-wing politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi and other attacks in the country.

Brahmi, a member of the Arab nationalist Popular Front party, was shot 11 times outside his home in Tunis in front of his wife and children in summer last year.

A few months earlier Belaid, the former leader of the Popular Front, was gunned down triggering violent protests that led to the resignation of Islamist Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.