Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said on Tuesday that relations with the United States would not be affected by a U.S. military raid that captured an al-Qaida suspect in Tripoli, but he said Libyan suspects should be tried in in their own country.
His comments reflected a desire to keep on board a key foreign ally in the fight to control worsening violence, at the same time as appeasing Islamist militants who have taken over swaths of Libya and use it as a safe haven.
Militant groups angered by Saturday's raid have taken to social networking sites to call for revenge attacks on strategic targets including gas export pipelines, planes and ships, as well as for the kidnappings of Americans in the capital.
In the operation, U.S. special forces seized Nazih al-Ragye - known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby - a Libyan who is a suspect in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 civilians.
“Our relationship with the USA is important, and we care about that, but we care, too, about our citizens, which is our duty,” Zeidan told reporters after a meeting with the Moroccan government in Rabat.
“They helped us with our revolution. Our relationship will not be affected by this event, which we will settle in the way that we need to,” said Zeidan.
The United States was a key ally of rebels who overthrew long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi two years ago.
But since then much of Libya has descended into lawlessness as militants, some of them affiliated to the al-Qaida network, use it to smuggle weapons and as a base for fighters.
Zeidan said Libyan citizens should be judged in Libya, and that Tripoli was in contact with U.S. authorities to “take all necessary measures in this affair.” Libya summoned the U.S. ambassador on Monday to discuss the issue.
U.S. officials say Liby is being held aboard a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
Raising fears of a violent backlash from angry militants, some groups have called for revenge attacks.
Messages posted by Libyan jihadists on the Internet and monitored by the SITE service included a Facebook page called “Benghazi is Protected by its People.”
It told Libyans to close off entrances and exits to Tripoli, and to kidnap citizens of the United States and its allies in order to use them to bargain for the release of imprisoned militants.
It also urged them to damage pipelines exporting gas to Europe, and target ships and planes.
A separate group called “the Revolutionaries of Benghazi - al-Bayda, Derna” accused Libya's leaders of having prior knowledge of the operation. Zeidan said at the weekend the government had asked the United States to explain the raid.