TRIPOLI — Islamist opponents of Libya’s hard-pressed prime minister are calling for an independent investigation into whether he gave approval for a U.S. Special Forces team to snatch an al-Qaida suspect from the streets of Tripoli. The demand for the probe is just the latest addition to Ali Zeidan’s many political woes.
Influential Islamist leader Sami al-Saadi says the government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan should shoulder some of the responsibility for the seizure earlier this month of the al-Qaida suspect by American commandos.
“I cannot for certain pin any evidence or say that Zeidan was complicit in this. But I will let you know what I quoted in the media, ‘if you did know, then it is a problem, and if you didn’t know it is a bigger problem,’” said al-Saadi.
Al-Saadi insists the suspect, Abu Anas al-Libi, is innocent of the terrorism charges he was arraigned on last week in a New York court, where he was transferred after several days of interrogation aboard a U.S. warship.
The Obama administration accuses al-Libi of involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 civilians. However, al-Libi’s family is claiming he broke ties with al-Qaida years before the bombings.
Islamist opponents of Libyan Prime Minister Zeidan seized on remarks by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that appeared to imply the Libyan government gave permission for the American counter-terrorism operation. Kerry has backtracked on his comments, and now insists the U.S. government never asked for permission.
Nevertheless, Zeidan’s foes are not placated. Al-Saadi says the American raid was a breach of Libya’s national sovereignty.
“The only way forward is for an independent committee… to investigate what took place, investigate which parties were involved. According to Libyan law obviously it is illegal to hand over a citizen to a foreign entity,” said al-Saadi.
The political row over the U.S. raid is just one of the challenges besieging Prime Minister Zeidan in what many observers believe could be a make-or-break month for him.
An assassination over the weekend in Benghazi of a top military commander has triggered even wider violence in eastern Libya, while the Prime Minister has been unable to end a months-long blockade by militias of the country’s oilfields and seaports. The authority of his government doesn’t stretch much further than the luxury hotel in Tripoli that he resides in, and 12 days ago it wasn't evident even there when militiamen briefly abducted him partly in retaliation for the snatching of al-Libi.
Zeidan insists he won’t resign and is urging ordinary Libyans to support him. He has held several press conferences since his abduction to name and denounce political opponents he accuses of being behind his kidnapping.
For civil society activist Nisreen, the press conferences are reassuring. She argues that behind the scenes, Prime Minister Zeidan’s government is working hard.
“When I see Zeidan speaking, I feel very optimistic,” said Nisreen. “Because I work with different people from the government, I know that they are doing an awful lot on many different levels and it takes time for things to show.”
Time, though, might prove to be in short supply for Zeidan, the country’s third prime minister in the two years since the ousting of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.