Tripoli (AFP) – Masked gunmen kidnapped Jordan’s ambassador to Libya as he rode to work in Tripoli on Tuesday, shooting at his car and wounding his driver, officials said.
It was the latest targeting of Libyan leaders and foreign diplomats in the increasingly lawless North African country, three years after NATO-backed rebels ousted autocratic leader Moamer Kadhafi.
“The Jordanian ambassador was kidnapped this morning. His convoy was attacked by a group of hooded men on board two civilian cars,” Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Said Lassoued told AFP.
Security and medical officials in Tripoli said the ambassador’s driver — reportedly a Moroccan — suffered two gunshot wounds but that his life was no longer in danger after surgery.
In Jordan, Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur urged the Libyan authorities to work to secure the safe release of the kingdom’s ambassador, Fawaz Aitan.
“According to the information we have, unknown masked civilians kidnapped Aitan this morning as he headed to work,” he told an emergency meeting of Jordan’s parliament.
“The kidnappers are responsible for the safety of Aitan and the government will do what it takes to free him,” said Nsur.
“We call on the Libyan government and Libyan people to work on preserving his life and freeing him.”
Aitan’s family in Amman said they learned about his abduction by chance.
“My mother learned about the abduction of my uncle through one of the satellite channels before calling the authorities,” Aitan’s nephew Osaid told AFP.
“We don’t know why he was kidnapped or if he received threats before the abduction. The situation in Libya is unstable and we are not aware of the kidnappers’ demands.”
Diplomats in Tripoli say militias that fought to topple the Kadhafi regime often carry out kidnappings to blackmail other countries into releasing Libyans held in prisons abroad.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Amman had yet to receive any demands from the kidnappers.
“We realize that the security situation in Libya is very difficult. Until now we did not receive any additional information from the kidnappers,” he said, quoted by the state-run Petra news agency.
National carrier Royal Jordanian said it cancelled Tuesday’s scheduled flight to Tripoli following the ambassador’s abduction.
RJ is “in touch with the Libyan authorities to take a suitable decision about operating flights to Libya,” said the airline, which also operates flights to the Libyan cities of Benghazi and Misrata.
The abduction came two days after Libya’s prime minister, Abdullah al-Thani, stepped down, saying he and his family had been the victims of a “traitorous” armed attack.
Thani quit less than a week after parliament tasked him with forming a new cabinet and a month after it ousted his predecessor for failing to rein in the insecurity gripping the country.
Libya has seen near daily attacks, particularly in the restive east, a challenge from rebels who blockaded vital oil terminals for nine months and a growing crisis stemming from the interim parliament’s decision to extend its mandate.
Last month, an employee of Tunisia’s embassy in Tripoli was kidnapped.
And in January, gunmen seized five Egyptian diplomats in the capital and held them for several hours.
Two assailants were killed in October when protesters attacked Russia’s embassy in Tripoli.
That attack followed a car bomb attack on the French embassy in April 2013 that wounded two guards.
And on September 11, 2012, an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 revolt, killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American citizens.
That came three months after a convoy carrying the British ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Benghazi, wounding two guards.
With the country awash with weapons from the 2011 conflict, authorities have struggled to establish security by integrating anti-Kadhafi militias into the regular army or police force.