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In a bizarre episode that highlights the tenuous security of post-Qaddafi Libya, the country's prime minister was kidnapped early this morning and shortly thereafter released by a militia nominally in the employ of his own government.
Agence France-Presse reports that Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been set free just a few hours after his pre-dawn kidnapping from the hotel where he lives, though details remain sketchy. "He has been freed but we have no details so far on the circumstances of his release," the Libyan foreign minister told AFP.
According to a government statement, Mr. Zeidan was grabbed early this morning and taken "to an unknown destination for unknown reasons by a group" of men believed to be former rebels. An employee at the Tripoli hotel where Zeidan lives confirmed that he had been abducted in a pre-dawn raid by "a large number of armed men."
The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, a militia that fought against Muammar Qaddafi in the Libyan civil war two years ago, claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying that it had detained Zeidan on orders of Libya's prosecutor general – a charge the justice ministry denied, reports BBC News. The BBC's Mohamed Madi writes that the LROR is "one of many 'semi-official' armed groups which control much of Libya in the absence of a regular police and army."
[The LROR's] modus operandi, judging from its Facebook page, is to raid and arrest those accused of financial impropriety or who have links with Col Gaddafi's government. But the kidnapping of the prime minister is by far its most high-profile operation.
The group was among two named by the prime minister's website as being responsible for seizing Zeidan. The other was the Anti-Crime Unit, which is affiliated with the ministry of the interior. It is not clear yet which group led the operation. But LROR has been the most active in getting its message across, through its Facebook page.
The BBC notes that the LROR is one of several militias that expressed anger over last week's US commando raid in Benghazi that abducted Nazih al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Liby, who has been charged in New York in connection with Al Qaeda's 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Although the LROR said that Zeidan's kidnapping was solely a domestic matter, the Benghazi raid has caused widespread consternation in Libya over its implication that the US is acting with impunity in Libyan sovereign territory, reports The Christian Science Monitor.
Most Libyans will understand why US authorities seized a chance to apprehend Mr. Liby, says Anas El Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Libyan affairs think tank in Tripoli. “But not everyone will be happy with the loss of sovereignty.” ...
The US says that Liby’s capture was lawful, but it’s unclear whether Libyan leaders knew that it would take place. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has called the raid a “kidnapping” and demanded an explanation, reports Reuters.
The New York Times notes today that anonymous US officials said Zeidan had been informed about the Benghazi raid ahead of time – suggesting that his subsequent kidnapping may "serve as a warning to other Libyan officials who contemplate collaborating with the United States in its pursuit of alleged terrorists."
Similarly, the Monitor reported yesterday that the Benghazi raid could be a game-changer for domestic politics, according to Bill Lawrence, an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a North Africa specialist.
"This could be a turning point for Zeidan, with the public assuming he either signed off [on the US capture] or was too weak or too disrespected to stop it," Mr. Lawrence says.