[Update below.] 2:05 a.m. EST: Armed men have kidnapped the Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, from the hotel in Tripoli where he lives, according to reports.
Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia quoted Libyan security sources as saying that Zeidan was seized from a hotel where he was staying in the Libyan capital and taken to an unknown destination. Dubai-based al-Arabiya carried a similar report.
According to CNN, armed rebels escorted Zeidan from the Corinthian Hotel in Tripol and took him away in a car. The news service quoted a hotel clerk as saying there was no gunfire and the gunmen “caused no trouble”.
Zeidan’s office initially denied the abduction on Facebook but later stated the denial was made at the order of the kidnappers.
“The head of the transitional government, Ali Zeidan, was taken to an unknown destination for unknown reasons,” the government said on its website, attributing the kidnapping to a group of men believed to be former rebels.
The abduction early Thursday comes amid anger among Libya’s powerful Islamic militant groups over the US special forces raid on Saturday that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi. Several groups accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid, though the government denied having any prior knowledge of the operation. Read more at THE GUARDIAN.
Zeidan was taken at 4am from his room by armed men who escorted him from the Corinthia hotel and held captive.
Libyan television showed him at around 1.30pm local time (12.30pm BST) returning to his Tripoli office wearing a business suit and flanked by dozens of soldiers in red berets. He was cheered by his staff as he went inside and did not stop to talk to journalists.
Militia units who had taken charge of security outside the hotel after police fled in the morning withdrew following Zeidan’s return and police units in red and white jeeps were again deployed around the entrance.
The situation at the hotel was tense with dozens of armed men from police, army and pro-Zeidan militias clustered at the entrance with machine guns and rocket launchers. Inside, guests could be seen standing around the lobby looking out as security forces deployed outside.
Condemnations of the prime minister’s kidnapping have come from the UK foreign minister, William Hague, and the United Nations support mission in Libya, and it was also condemned by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.
Human Rights Watch said it was “deeply troubled” by Zeidan’s detention by “armed forces apparently aligned with the state.”
It said in a statement: “His brief detention clearly violated Libyan law. The incident highlights the grave security conditions in Libya today. Hopefully it will refocus attention on the urgent need to strengthen both the country’s security forces and its judicial systems.”
It is still unclear who kidnapped Zeidan, with Hashim Bishar, head of the Tripoli Supreme Security Committee, the government’s gendarmerie, claiming he was captured by an unidentified group and then released from his detention by Tripoli militias.
“Our revolutionaries went to the place where he was being detained and demanded he be handed over. He was handed over, now he is safe,” he told a Libyan TV station. He did not say who had kidnapped Zeidan from the Corinthia.
The abduction came amid anger among Libya’s powerful Islamic militant groups over the US special forces raid on Saturday that seized Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi.
Several groups and Libi’s family members have accused the government of complicity in the raid, though Zeidan has denied all knowledge of the operation.
State news service Lana had earlier said that Zeidan was captured by the Revolutionary Operations Room of Libya, a government security force composed of former rebels, reporting that a statement from the group said he would be charged under the Libyan penal code with endangering state security. The group denied any involvement in the operation. Read more.