Libyan PM freed after being seized over US capture of militant

Gunmen linked to Libyan security apparatus dragged Ali Zeidan from his luxury hotel at dawn

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 3:09pm

Libya's prime minister was seized and held for several hours yesterday by former rebel militiamen angry at the weekend capture by US special forces of a Libyan al-Qaeda suspect in Tripoli.

Gunmen associated with the fragmented Libyan security apparatus had hauled Ali Zeidan, a former diplomat opposed to Islamist radicals, at dawn from the luxury hotel where he lives under heavy guard. Guards at the hotel said no shots were fired during the incident.

Zeidan had distanced his government from US assertions it co-operated in Saturday's capture of Abu Anas al-Liby, wanted for the al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Kenya in 1998.

But the group that seized Zeidan appeared to hold him responsible for helping Washington's operation.

His brief detention was the latest of many incidents that underline how, two years after a Western-backed uprising ousted Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is in turmoil.

Its vulnerable government and nascent armed forces are struggling to contain tribal militias and Islamist militants who control parts of the country.

The militia, which was hired by the government to provide security in Tripoli, said it "arrested" Zeidan after US Secretary of State John Kerry said Libya had a role in the capture of Liby.

"His arrest comes after Kerry said the Libyan government was aware of the operation," a spokesman for the group, known as the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries, said. Adding to confusion, Libyan television later carried a denial from the Operations Room that it was involved. The government said Zeidan had been "kidnapped".

Geoff Porter, of North Africa Risk consulting, said: "His kidnapping clearly indicates that his government is not cohesive, and that not only is his government not in control of the country, but that he is not in control of his government."

Before his release, an official in the Interior Ministry anti-crime department said Zeidan was being held there and was being treated well.

The prime minister, who is in his early 60s and has held the post for a year, was taken from the Corinthia Hotel, where many diplomats and top government officials live. It is regarded as one of the most secure places in Tripoli.

The kidnapping, however brief, raised the stakes in the unruly Opec nation, where the regional factions are also seeking control over its oil wealth, which provides the government with most of its revenue.

Since the Arab spring revolts that ousted several autocratic leaders, Libya's transition has been one of the messiest.

It still has no new constitution, Zeidan faces a possible vote of no confidence and its transitional assembly, the General National Congress, is paralysed by divisions between the secular National Forces Alliance and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Zeidan, viewed as a liberal opposed to radical Islamists, has struggled to fulfil a promise to clean up rival militias made up of former rebels who battle on the streets of Tripoli and the eastern oil hub of Benghazi, occupying government buildings and imposing their will through force.

Libya's defence minister resigned in June after militias besieged two ministries. Another group of armed protesters has taken over oil ports in the east for the past two months, slashing crude output by half.

Liby is being held on a US warship in the Mediterranean.

On Tuesday, Zidan said his government had asked Washington to let Liby's family establish contact with him. Zidan insisted Libyan citizens should be tried in their homeland if accused of crimes, stressing that "Libya does not surrender its sons".

Additional reporting by Associated Press