TRIPOLI - Gunmen seized Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in Tripoli Thursday and held him for several hours before he was freed, in the latest sign of Libya’s lawlessness since Moamer Kadhafi was toppled in 2011.
The premier appeared in good health when he arrived at government headquarters after his ordeal at the hands of former rebel militiamen, waving to waiting well-wishers as he climbed out of an armoured personnel carrier.
The pre-dawn seizure of Zeidan came five days after US commandos embarrassed and angered Libya’s government by capturing senior Al-Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of Tripoli and whisking him away to a warship.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelaziz said Zeidan had been freed a number of hours after being seized before dawn at his Tripoli hotel. “He has been freed but we have no details so far on the circumstances of his release,” Abdelaziz told AFP. Ironically the premier had moved to the hotel for security reasons. Government spokesman Mohamed Kaabar told the state LANA news agency that the premier had been “freed, not released.” He did not elaborate on how he had been freed.
Moments before news broke of Zeidan’s release, Deputy Prime Minister Al-Seddik Abdelkarim had vowed that the government would not give into the demands of the perpetrators of a “criminal act”. “The government will not give in to blackmail by anyone,” he said.
Zeidan, who made no immediate comment when he arrived at government headquarters, went straight into a meeting with his ministers and members of the General National Congress (GNC) - Libya’s highest political authority.
Ministers had already met in his absence earlier in the day for an emergency session convened after his abduction. A government statement said Zeidan had been taken “to an unknown destination for unknown reasons by a group” of men believed to be former rebels. The Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries, comprising former rebels and which had roundly denounced Libi’s abduction and blamed Zeidan’s government for it, said it had “arrested” Zeidan under orders from the public prosecutor. But the cabinet said on its Facebook page that ministers were “unaware of immunity being lifted or of any arrest warrant” for the premier.
Later, another group of ex-rebels, the Brigade for the Fight against Crime, said it was holding Zeidan, according to the official LANA news 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.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday condemned the abduction of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. “I condemn this abduction in the strongest possible terms,” Ban said in Brunei after the end of an Asian regional summit. “He has been freed but we have no details so far on the circumstances of his release,” Mohammed Abdelaziz told AFP.
Ban said the “very unfortunate abduction of the prime minister is a clear wake-up call not only for the Libyan people,” but also for other nations experiencing political transformation. “I sincerely hope that this report coming from Libya that he had been released could be true. It’s not yet confirmed,” Ban said.