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Africa

Libyan PM Ali Zeidan freed after brief captivity

© FRANCE 24

Video by Kethevane GORJESTANI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-10

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan returned to his office on Thursday afternoon after his brief but brazen abduction by armed men who stormed his Tripoli hotel residence and seized the former diplomat around dawn.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was released on Thursday just hours after he was seized from his Tripoli hotel residence at dawn by armed men, apparently in retaliation for the weekend’s capture of a Libyan al Qaeda suspect by US special forces.

In a televised cabinet meeting shortly after his release, Zeidan thanked those who helped free him but provided no details about his abductors or their motivation for his kidnapping.

“We hope this matter will be treated with wisdom and rationality, far from tension,'' said Zeidan. “There are many things that need dealing with.''

The brief, but shocking, abduction underscored the perilous security in the North African nation and the government’s fragile control of many militia groups two years after the fall of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Earlier Thursday, Libya's LANA state news agency reported that Zeidan was being held at the interior ministry.

The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, an armed group loosely allied to the government, initially said it had arrested Zeidan following an order from the prosecutor-general.

But in an interview with FRANCE 24, Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said the prime minister had been abducted early on Thursday. A government statement confirmed that gunmen had taken Zeidan from the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, where he resides.

Al-Arabiya and other news agencies published video stills of the abduction of the prime minister, frowning and wearing a beige shirt undone at the collar, surrounded by several men in civilian clothes pressing closely around him.

A security guard at the Corinthia Hotel told reporters that more than 100 armed men arrived at the hotel in a convoy of cars at dawn and said they were acting on the orders of the prosecutor-general.

Witnesses at the luxury hotel said the gunmen scuffled with Zeidan’s security guards before the prime minister was led away.

Weak state, strong militias and rising insecurity

Hours after the news broke on Thursday morning, there was confusion over who was responsible for the kidnapping.

The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, a rebel group that had been working with the interior ministry, initially claimed responsibility for Zeidan's abduction but later denied involvement. The group said it kidnapped Zeidan in retribution for the Libyan government allegedly allowing a US raid on Libyan territory that led to the capture of al Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi.

The Libyan government has denied that it had any prior knowledge of the US raid.

Another group of ex-rebels, the Brigade for the Fight against Crime, said it was holding Zeidan, according to the LANA agency.

The government said it suspected both the Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries and the Brigade for the Fight against Crime of being behind Zeidan's abduction.

The two groups loosely fall under the control of the defence and interior ministries but largely operate autonomously.

Two years after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya’s central government is virtually held hostage by powerful militias that are interwoven into the country’s fragmented power structure.

With the country's police and army in disarray, many militiamen are enlisted to serve in state security agencies, though they are often more loyal to their local commanders than to the central government.

The state is struggling to contain the influence of both the tribal militias and the Islamist militants who control parts of the country, as well as reconcile persistent internal divisions.

Many Libyans blame entrenched political rivalries for the problems plaguing the small nation’s nascent democracy, while the country also remains awash with weapons left over from the 2011 revolution that toppled Gaddafi.

And public anger is growing over increasingly widespread violence, including a raft of political assassinations. 

Date created : 2013-10-10

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