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October 11, 2013

Aides: Libyan PM Abduction Was Political Plot

by Jamie Dettmer

A day after Libya’s prime minister was abducted and held for a few hours by militants, his aides said the episode is part of a broad plan on the part of his political opponents to destabilize the government.

The plot to abduct Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zidan on Thursday was hatched two days before U.S. Special Forces seized an al-Qaida suspect in Tripoli, according to government sources close to Zidan. The American action was the main reason the conspirators and militiamen gave for kidnapping the Libyan leader.

But the abduction conspiracy not only predates the American capture of Abu Anas al-Libi, it also was part of a wider plan involving some senior Libyan lawmakers, Libyan sources said.  The sources said the plot possibly reaches as high as the leadership in the country’s parliament.

“This has its origins not only with the militias but with politicians in the GNC,” said an aide to Zidan, who declined to be identified for this article.

Zidan, a former human rights lawyer, served briefly in the diplomatic corps of the former Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi before going into exile in Europe in 1980. He was freed from the Tripoli house where he was being held after only six hours of captivity by rival militiamen from two Tripoli districts. 

“There was a brief exchange of gunfire,” Haitham al-Tajouri, one of the rescuers, told al-Hurra television.

Zidan’s abductors were militiamen from different towns including Misrata and Zawiya, who were serving in semi-official law enforcement units, say witnesses as well as some of the kidnappers themselves.

The kidnappers brandished the warrant when they stormed Tripoli’s luxury Corinthia hotel Thursday where Zidan keeps an office and a bedroom suite.

More than 400 gunmen were involved in the kidnapping estimates Khalil Yahia, the head of the government security team at the Corinthia, which also houses several foreign missions. Yahia, a bearded 28-year-old, says he was taken aback when the gunmen arrived in an assortment of pick-ups and cars and surrounded the landmark hotel looming over the capital’s old souk.

They blocked the entrances before half of the contingent peeled off and entered the foyer demanding to know Zidan’s whereabouts and shouting they had an arrest warrant.

“I was depressed,” Yahia said. “I was thinking, ‘Here we are trying to build a state and they are now going to arrest the prime minister.’ ”

The gunmen then started to search the hotel, startling guests before someone told them where Zidan was sleeping.

After a brief scuffle with the two guards outside Zidan’s suite, the bewildered Prime Minister was led downstairs and marched outside the hotel to shouts of “Allah Akbar.” The kidnappers put out statements saying they had “arrested” Zidan on accusations of harming state security and corruption. The public prosecutor’s office said it had issued no warrant.

​​​There is widespread speculation in Tripoli that the kidnapping was linked to the anger many of the revolutionary militias and Islamic militants expressed over last week’s seizing by a U.S. Delta Force team of al-Qaida  suspect Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, whose nom de guerre is Abu Anas al-Libi.

He was captured as he returned to his Tripoli home after dawn prayers. He is alleged to have been one of the organizers of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200.

Although government ministers denied having given approval for the U.S. raid and demanded al-Libi’s return, Zidan’s criticism was restrained, saying American-Libyan relations would not be harmed by the military action.

The brazen abduction of Zidan underscored the lawlessness of Libya and heightened public and international alarm over the power of the militias and the unruliness of the country.

The Swedish consulate in Benghazi was the target of a car bomb attack on Friday.  No injuries were reported.