Libya’s Western-backed prime minister on Friday said his brief
abduction by gunmen this week was an attempted coup by his Islamist
political rivals, using militias which he warned are trying to
“terrorize” the government and turn the North African nation into
another Afghanistan or Somalia.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
In a sign of the turmoil, a car bomb detonated outside a
building housing the Swedish and Finnish consulates in the eastern city
of Benghazi, where militias are particularly prominent. No one was hurt,
but the blast damaged the building’s facade. The city, Libya’s
second-largest, has seen frequent violence, including killings of
security officials an
With his nationally televised address, embattled Prime Minister
Ali Zidan appeared to be trying to leverage public shock over his
abduction a day earlier into momentum against his political opponents
and against the multiple armed groups stirring chaos since the 2011
toppling of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Militias, many including Islamic
extremists, carry out daily violence nationwide and have defied attempts
by the weak central authorities to rein them in.
Zidan also gave
his first account of the events Thursday, when militiamen broke into the
luxury Tripoli hotel where he lived before daybreak and took him away,
holding him in a basement prison with criminals for hours until he was
“This is a coup,” he said, speaking alongside members of
his government. “There are political rivals behind this ... a political
group that plots to topple the government.” He appeared to referring to
Islamist blocs in parliament that have sought to remove him. “There is a
force that wants to slaughter the state before it is established.”
has been struggling with political opponents and militias since he was
named a year ago by parliament to lead. The tensions were enflamed by
last Saturday’s raid by U.S. special forces that snatched a Libyan
al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of the
capital and whisked him off to custody in a U.S. warship.
angered many militiamen, who accuse Zidan — who has cultivated close
security cooperation with the United States — of collaborating in the
abduction of a Libyan citizen. Zidan’s government has denied any prior
knowledge of the operation, but the raid appears to have prompted his
Several dozen of members of the hard-line Ansar
al-Shariah group marched Friday evening between two main Tripoli
squares, denouncing the raid and the prime minister. “Zidan, you coward,
you are an American agent,” they chanted, waving black banners. The
al-Qaida inspired group is believed to be involved in Sept. 11, 2012
attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed the ambassador
and three other Americans.
Along with other militias, Ansar
al-Shariah held a larger protest, backed by pickup trucks mounted with
machine guns, in Benghazi.
In Tripoli, al-Libi’s family attended a
separate rally by about 50 Islamists. His wife told The Associated
Press, “The Americans “are the terrorists.”
“For six days I have no idea if he (al-Libi) is alive or dead, sick
or well,” she said, identifying herself as Um Abdullah and speaking from
behind a black veil over her face. “I want to talk to him because even
if they say he is fine, I don’t believe the Americans.”
Al-Libi whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, is
accused by the U.S. in connection with the 1998 bombings of its
embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
At the same time, Prime Minister Zidan faces criticism from many
Libyans who hate militias and say he has proven impotent to stop them.
“Zidan shows up as a helpless guy who doesn’t have confidence,” said
young businessman Hazem al-Tamami, watching the prime minister’s speech
at a cafe. Referring to the militias, he added, “If you ask me, I will
bring an Apache and bomb them all.”
Militias originated in the
“revolutionary” brigades that fought Gadhafi’s forces. Since his ouster,
they have refused to disarm and have mushroomed in size and power. Many
have been enlisted by the state to serve as security forces, since the
army and police are weak, underequipped and under-paid. But they often
continue to act as armed vigilante factions with their own interests,
and some follow radical al-Qaida-style ideologies or are believed to
have links to the terror organization.
Touting themselves as
“revolutionaries,” some have long demanded Zidan’s removal for accepting
Gadhafi-era officials in government posts. Zidan himself served as
diplomat under Gadhafi before defecting to the opposition decades ago.
Militias have in the past besieged government buildings and carried out
kidnappings — including one last month of the defense minister’s son,
apparently to pressure him against trying to rein in the groups. On
Friday, the military held memorial for killings of 16 Libyan soldiers in
a checkpoint near Tripoli by suspected militants days ago.
speech, Zidan warned that “there are those who want to take Libya into
the unknown. They want to turn Libya into Afghanistan or Somalia.”
said armed groups use violence to press individual demands and block
the establishment of the police and military. “We want a nation of
institutions, with an army and police,” he said. “But there are those
who want to terrorize the state and the courts and the institutions, and
this we refuse.”
He vowed that those involved in his abduction
would be punished. He said the attackers looted everything in his room,
from cellphones and documents to even his underwear.
his captors told him they belonged to the Libyan Revolutionaries
Operation Room, an umbrella group for various militias, including
Islamic hard-liners. The agency was created by Nouri Abu Sahmein, the
head of the parliament — or National Congress — as a parallel security
force for the capital. That has raised questions on whether they acted
on orders from Abu Sahmein, who belongs to an Islamist faction.
said his captors told him they were acting on orders of their leaders.
But he did not specify Abu Sahmein, who visited him while being held,
and thanked him for his help in ensuring his freedom.
Earlier, the Operation Room in its official website accused Zidan’s government of “collaboration” in the U.S. raid.
militia group called the Anti-Crime Department was also involved in the
abduction. Its spokesman, Abdel-Hakim al-Balazi, said that the
Operation Room members brought Zidan to one of their buildings, claiming
they had a warrant for his arrest.
Al-Balazi questioned why parliament chief Abu Sahmein didn’t immediately free Zidan when he visited him in the cell.
“I am personally surprised. How come you are the president and you see
your prime minister held in a prison and you just leave,” he said.
Keath reported from Cairo.