Tripoli (AFP) – Gunmen seized Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in Tripoli Thursday and held him for several hours before he was freed, in the latest sign of Libya’s lawlessness since Moamer Kadhafi was toppled in 2011.
The pre-dawn seizure of Zeidan came five days after U.S. commandos embarrassed and angered Libya’s government by capturing senior Al-Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of Tripoli and whisking him away to a warship.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdelaziz said Zeidan had been released a number of hours after being seized at his hotel in Tripoli before dawn by former rebel militiamen.
“He has been freed but we have no details so far on the circumstances of his release,” Abdelaziz told AFP.
Government spokesman Mohamed Kaabar told the state LANA news agency that the premier had been “freed, not released.” He did not elaborate.
Moments before news broke of Zeidan’s release, Deputy Prime Minister Al-Seddik Abdelkarim had vowed that the government would not give into the demands of the perpetrators of a “criminal act”.
“The government will not give in to blackmail by anyone,” he said.
An earlier government statement said Zeidan had been taken “to an unknown destination for unknown reasons by a group” of men believed to be former rebels.
The Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries, comprising former rebels and which had roundly denounced Libi’s abduction and blamed Zeidan’s government for it, said it had “arrested” Zeidan under orders from the public prosecutor.
But the cabinet said on its Facebook page that ministers were “unaware of immunity being lifted or of any arrest warrant” for the premier.
Later, another group of ex-rebels, the Brigade for the Fight against Crime, said it was holding Zeidan, according to the official LANA news agency.
Thursday’s government statement said it suspected both the Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries and the Brigade for the Fight against Crime of being behind the raid that netted Zeidan.
The two groups loosely fall under the control of the defense and interior ministries but largely operate autonomously.
Two years after the revolution that toppled Kadhafi, Libya’s new authorities are struggling to rein in tribal militias and groups of former rebels.