Libyan PM Ali Zeidan freed from captivity

The BBC's Rana Jawad reports on a chaotic episode in Libyan politics

Libyan PM Ali Zeidan has called for "calm and "wisdom" after being freed from the custody of militiamen.

He was abducted from a Tripoli hotel and held for several hours by armed men whose identity has yet to be confirmed.

In a televised cabinet meeting, the PM thanked those who freed him, suggesting there had been a security operation.

The motive of the abduction is unclear but some militias had been angered by a US commando raid to capture senior al-Qaeda suspect Anas al-Liby.

Many militia groups saw the raid in Tripoli on Saturday as a breach of Libyan sovereignty and there is growing pressure on the government to explain if it was involved.

One group, the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR), said it had captured Mr Zeidan, claiming it was acting on orders from the prosecutor general. But the justice ministry denied this.

Report by Tim Whewell on instability in Libya, including an interview with Mr Zeidan

Analysis

When I interviewed Mr Zeidan a week ago for Newsnight, he seemed almost overwhelmed by the scale of the task he faces in trying to disband the militias that effectively control Libya and replace them with a national army and police force.

He appealed for more international help in training militiamen - and in trying to reduce the number of weapons in circulation. Libya is now believed to have the largest unsecured arms stockpile in the world - and those arms are now fuelling conflicts in neighbouring countries such as Algeria, Mali and Egypt, as well as being exported to Syria.

Mr Zeidan made the same plea to the British government on a recent visit to London. The UK has now agreed to take an initial group of 360 militiamen for training in Britain this year. Others will follow later in a programme to be paid for by Libya, also involving Italy, France, Turkey and other countries.

But today's kidnapping illustrates how closely intertwined some militias are with government departments. The militias have many powerful supporters within government - some of them Islamists - who regard them as a very useful tool and will oppose any attempt to disband them.

The LROR said its actions had not been related to Mr Liby's detention.

The official Lana news agency also named another formal rebel group, the Brigade for the Fight against Crime, as being involved.

Two years after the overthrow of Col Muammar Gaddafi, Libya still has no constitution and divisions between secular and Islamist forces have paralysed parliament.

The government has been struggling to contain the numerous militias who control many parts of the country.

'No warrant'

Mr Zeidan's cabinet meeting following his release was shown live on Libyan television.

He thanked those who had helped free him but gave no details about them or the abductors.

"We hope this matter will be treated with wisdom and rationality, far from tension," he said. "There are many things that need dealing with."

State TV had also earlier broadcast live Mr Zeidan's return to his office in Tripoli.

There was a high security presence as his car pulled up outside.

Mr Zeidan had been taken in a pre-dawn raid on the Corinthia Hotel by more than 100 armed men.

Photographs circulating online showed Mr Zeidan surrounded by what state TV said were armed men as he was led away. There were no reports of violence during his capture.

Militias in Libya

  • Numerous militias formed to topple Gaddafi still operate
  • Many still control the towns or areas where they were formed
  • Some believed to have links to al-Qaeda
  • Government has been unable to disarm them, instead it works with some militias
  • Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, which says it seized the prime minister, has links to defence and interior ministries
  • It condemned the US raid to seize al-Qaeda suspect Anas al-Liby

In claiming it carried out the attack, the LROR said it was acting on the orders of the prosecutor general and in accordance with a section of Libya's criminal code relating to "crimes and misdemeanours harmful to state security".

But Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said the prosecutor general had issued no arrest warrant, according to state-run National Libyan TV.

The prime minister was reportedly held at the interior ministry anti-crime department in Tripoli, where an official said he was being treated well.

In a news conference shortly before the release was announced, the government condemned the "criminal act" of his detention and said it would not give in to "blackmail".

The LROR is one of a number of militias operating in Libya which are nominally attached to government ministries but often act independently and, correspondents say, often have the upper hand over police and army forces.

Earlier this week, the prime minister appealed for Western help in tackling rising militancy in Libya.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote

In an interview with the BBC on Monday, he said Libya was being used as a base to export weapons throughout the region.

Mr Liby, 49, is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind the 1998 US embassy attacks, which killed more than 220 people in Kenya and Tanzania.

He was living openly in Tripoli before his capture by US commandos early on Saturday morning.

In remains unclear whether the Libyan government had prior knowledge of the operation to capture him.

Libya asked the US for clarification of the incident and has questioned the US ambassador, but the PM also said it would not harm ties with Washington.

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