Home inContext Libyan PM Kidnapped and Released

Libyan PM Kidnapped and Released

Michael Johnson

Armed militiamen abducted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan at dawn on Thursday from the Tripoli hotel in which he lives. After six hours, the gunman released Zeidan unharmed, but the kidnapping further underscored Libya’s lawlessness since the 2011 revolution – with an odd political twist.

The Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) militia, which is paid by the government to provide security for government officials, said it had captured the PM under direction of the Libyan Prosecutor General. The LROR spokesman said the arrest came after a report that Prime Minister Zeidan knew in advance about the U.S. raid against Abu Anas al-Libi last weekend in Benghazi. Justice ministry officials have denied involvement in Zeidan’s arrest, but the LROR remains close to the ministry.

Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaks during a news conference on July 31, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

Revealing comments from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could embarrass the government and may have lead to Zeidan’s abduction. According to a report in Reuters, Kerry said that local leaders in Tripoli had been informed about the U.S. raid in Benghazi. The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with the Libyan government, but it remains unclear whether Washington even asked local authorities to arrest him.

Al-Libi’s capture caused anger across the the country, with Libyans accusing the U.S. of violating their sovereignty. Many locals also worry about al-Qaeda revenge attacks following al-Libi’s detainment; the Libyan government publicly condemned the raid.

Thursday’s kidnapping highlights the central government’s inability to exert influence over the large militias which control much of Libya. While many were once – and some remain – on the government’s payroll to help enforce order, they now pose a challenge to Tripoli’s authority.