Libyan prime minister freed after kidnapping, official says
Prime Minister Ali Zidan has been freed after kidnappers abducted him earlier Thursday from a Tripoli hotel and took him to an undisclosed location.
Government Spokesman Mohammed Kaabar told the agency, LANA, that Zidan has been “set free” and was on his way to his office on Thursday.
The brief report gave no further information. Details were sketchy but it appeared Libyan forces had intervened in some way and that the abductors did not free Zidan voluntarily.
Hours earlier, gunmen broke into the luxury hotel in downtown Tripoli where Zeidan lives and abducted him and two of his guards, a Libyan official told the Associated Press. The guards were beaten but later released, according to the official, who requested anonymity on the grounds that he was not authorized to discuss the incident.
The abduction came after Saturday’s U.S. special forces raid that captured Abu Anas al-Libi, a suspected militant wanted by America for more than a decade over the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
Some militia groups angry over the raid had hinted at retaliation at U.S. and other foreign interests and have lashed out at the government, accusing it of colluding with Washington, the Associated Press reported.
Zidan’s abduction reflected the weakness of Libya’s government, which is virtually held hostage by powerful militias, many of which are made up of Islamic militants.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that up to 150 gunmen drove up in pickup trucks and laid siege to the Corinthia Hotel before daylight Thursday. A large group of them entered the building, some stayed in the lobby while others headed to the 21st floor where Zidan was staying.
The gunmen scuffled with the prime minister’s guards before they seized him and led him out at around 5.15 a.m., said the witnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared for their own safety. They said Zidan offered no resistance while he was being led away.
In a sign of Libya’s chaos, Zidan’s seizure was depicted by various sources as either an “arrest” or an abduction.
That is because the militias are interwoven in Libya’s fragmented power structure. With the police and army in disarray, many are enlisted to serve in state security agencies, though their loyalty is more to their own commanders than to government officials and they have often intimidated or threatened officials. The militias are rooted in the brigades that fought in the uprising that toppled autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and are often referred to as “revolutionaries.”
Mohammed Shaaban, Corinthia’s security manager, said the gunmen showed the hotel’s management an arrest warrant they claimed had been issued by the public prosecutor.
The public prosecutor’s office said it had issued no warrant for Zidan’s arrest.
A statement on the government’s official website said Zidan was taken at dawn to an “unknown location for unknown reasons” by a group believed to be “revolutionaries” from a security agency known as the Anti-Crime Committee. The Cabinet held an emergency meeting Thursday morning, headed by Zidan’s deputy, Abdel-Salam al-Qadi.
Abdel-Moneim al-Hour, an official with the Anti-Crime Committee, told The Associated Press that Zidan had been arrested on accusations of harming state security and corruption. The public prosecutor’s office said it had issued no warrant for Zidan’s arrest.
The State Department was looking into reports of the abduction and was “in close touch with senior U.S. and Libyan officials on the ground,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.