Libyan PM Ali Zeidan ‘free’ after seizure by armed men in Tripoli
Seizure a reprisal for US raid at weekend capturing al-Qaeda suspect, say officials
A still image aired by broadcaster Al Arabiya shows what it claims is the Libyan prime minister Ali Zeidan surrounded by men at an unidentified location today before his release. Photograph: Reuters
Former rebel gunmen have freed Libya’s prime minister after holding him for several hours in reprisal for the capture by US forces at the weekend of a Libyan al Qaeda suspect in Tripoli, officials said.
A Reuters journalist at the scene said protesters had opened fire at the building where Ali Zeidan was being held to demand that the group, which is affiliated with the government, free the premier.
“The prime minister has been released,“ a government official said. A security source also said Mr Zeidan was free.
Mr Zeidan had been snatched before dawn by gunmen from a Tripoli hotel where he resides, the government said. He was held at the Interior Ministry’s anti-crime department.
The former rebels involved in the incident are reported to work for the Interior Ministry to provide security in the capital.
The incident has reflected the weakness of Libya’s government, which is virtually held hostage by powerful militias, many of which are made up of Islamic militants.
Militants were angered by the US capture of the suspected militant, known as Abu Anas al-Libi, and accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid.
In a sign of Libya’s chaos, Mr Zeidan’s seizure was depicted by various sources as either an “arrest” or an abduction.
This 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.
A statement on the government’s official website said Mr Zeidan had been 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 this morning, headed by Mr Zeidan’s deputy Abdel-Salam al-Qadi.
Abdel-Moneim al-Hour, an official with the Anti-Crime Committee, said Mr Zeidan had been arrested on accusations of harming state security and corruption. However, the public prosecutor’s office said it had issued no warrant for his arrest.
A government official earlier said gunmen broke into the luxury hotel in central Tripoli where Mr Zeidan lives and abducted him and two of his guards. The two guards were beaten but later released.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, travelling with secretary of state John Kerry in Brunei, said: “We are looking into these reports and we are in close touch with senior US and Libyan officials on the ground.”