Libya abduction: Freed PM Ali Zeidan calls for calm

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

Libyan PM Ali Zeidan has called for "rationality 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 cabinet meeting, the PM thanked "real revolutionaries" who took part in a security operation to free him.

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.

Ali Zeidan: "I hope we resolve this matter with wisdom and reason, away from tension and escalation"

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.

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.

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.

'Accidental thing'

Mr Zeidan's cabinet meeting following his release was shown live on Libya's al-Ahrar television.

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

He said: "I salute the revolutionaries who had an important role. The real revolutionaries, those who rose above greedy demands, I salute them for what they did in this affair."

Mr Zeidan urged them to "assimilate into the state, and play an active role in it through its civilian and military institutions".

He added: "Only with an army and the police can a state exist."

Libyan PM Ali Zeidan being taken away - still from state TV (10 Oct 2013) An image was released of Mr Zeidan in custody. The justice ministry insisted it had not ordered his arrest

The BBC has been told that local armed residents backed by brigades from nearby districts had rescued the PM, our correspondent in Tripoli, Rana Jawad, says.

The prime minister said of his capture: "These are accidental things from the revolution's overflow and they will disappear."

He also said Libya would "regain its health" and be "an active, positive nation".

Mr Zeidan assured foreigners the incident had happened "within the context of Libyan political wrangles".

He ended by calling for "caution and rationality in handling this matter".

A spokesperson for David Cameron said the UK Prime Minister had spoken to Mr Zeidan since his release and had promised to help build a "stable, free, peaceful and prosperous" Libya.

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

The spokesperson said: "Both leaders agreed that Libya's democratically elected representatives and leaders must be able to carry out their duties and deliver Libya's political transition free from the threat of kidnap, violence and armed intimidation. A minority of individuals must not be allowed to undermine that."

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 being surrounded and led away. There were no reports of violence during his capture.

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