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Friday, December 9, 2016

By Nehal El-Sherif and Taylor Luck, McClatchy Tribune News

AMMAN, Jordan — Libyan gunmen seeking the release of an alleged al-Qaeda operative held in Jordan abducted Amman’s ambassador Tuesday in Tripoli, local media and Jordanian officials said.

Ambassador Fawaz al-Aytan’s motorcade came under attack from masked gunmen in two cars without licence plates, Libya’s official LANA news agency reported, quoting a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tripoli.

The gunmen seized al-Aytan, while his driver was hospitalized with two bullet wounds, the report said.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh urged the abductors to immediately release the envoy, citing al-Aytan’s “devoted service to Libya and the Libyan people.” According to a Jordanian Foreign Ministry official, Libyan authorities informed Amman late Tuesday that the kidnappers had demanded the release of Mohammed Saeed al-Dirsi, a Libyan national imprisoned in Jordan on terrorism charges since 2004.

“Our Libyan counterparts have informed us that a group claiming to be the kidnappers have contacted them and have pledged to release our ambassador unharmed in return for al-Dirsi,” the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media, told dpa.

Tripoli and Amman had previously entered negotiations in 2012 over the transfer of al-Dirsi, also known as Mohammed al-Nuss, an alleged al-Qaida operative whom Jordanian authorities arrested in late 2004 as he attempted to cross into Iraq.

Judeh’s statement noted that “the security situation is very difficult there,” but that Amman was working with Libyan authorities to secure al-Aytan’s release.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the abduction and called for the ambassador’s immediate release and for protection of other diplomats in Libya.

“The members of the Security Council reaffirmed that such acts are unjustifiable regardless of their motivations, whenever and by whomsoever committed,” the U.N. said.

The council stressed that the perpetrators of such acts must be brought to justice.

“The members of the Security Council called on the Libyan authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel, to respect fully their international obligations in this regard, and to work towards the safe release of the ambassador,” the statement said.

Libya’s caretaker leadership has been struggling to impose order since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was toppled in 2011.

The North African nation’s prime minister-designate, Abdullah al-Thini, resigned Sunday, citing what he said was an attack on him and his family by a militia.

Former prime minister Ali Zeidan was briefly kidnapped last year. He was released with the help of militia fighters.

Five Egyptian diplomats were briefly abducted in January, as was a South Korean trade official.

In September 2012, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other diplomatic workers were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi.

AFP Photo/Ibrahim Chalhoub