Officials in France, the United States and the United Kingdom, along with the United Nations Secretary-General, have condemned the abduction of Libya’s Prime Minister. Shortly after his release, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan accused a “political party” of organizing his brief abduction, which was carried out by armed gunmen during the early morning hours on Thursday. The latest incident to stun Libya has further reflected the weakness of the country’s government.
During the early morning hours on Thursday, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from a luxury hotel, the Corinthia, in downtown Tripoli and held for several hours by armed militiamen. Photographs depicted Mr. Zeidan being surrounded by more than 100 armed men and being led away. There were no reports of violence during his capture. Sources have indicated that the Prime Minister was abducted with two of his guards, who were beaten and later released. Shortly after his abduction, an employee of the hotel where Mr. Zeidan was living in indicated that a “large number of armed men” had entered the building. Although a statement later released by the Libyan government indicated that Mr. Zeidan had been taken “to an unknown destination for unknown reasons by a group” of men believed to be former rebels, eye witness accounts reported that the Prime Minister was held at a police station south of the capital and that his captors had decided to release him after armed residents surrounded the building and demanded that he be released.
Shortly after his release later on Thursday, Mr. Zeidan met with his minister and members of the General National Congress (GNC), which is Libya’s highest political authority. The Prime Minister appeared to be in good health as he arrived at government headquarters later on Thursday. He was seen waving to waiting well-wishers as he climbed out of an armored car. Reports have indicated that the Prime Minister has accused a “political party” of organizing his brief abduction. In comments that were later broadcast by state television as he left a cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister indicated that “it’s a political party which wants to overthrow the government by any means,” adding that “in the coming days, I will give more information on who this political party is that organized by kidnapping.” While the Prime Minister has praised the armed groups that came to rescue him, he has called for calm, stating that “…this problem will be resolved with reason and wisdom” and without any “escalation.” His comments reflect a need for ease as tensions have been rising in Libya ever since US commandos carried out a secretive military operation over the past weekend.
While the motive of the abduction remains unclear, some officials have indicated that it appeared to be in retaliation for the US special forces raid that seized a Libyan al-Qaeda suspect off the streets of Tripoli. Some militias throughout the country have been angered by last Saturday’s US commando raid to capture Anas al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda suspect, who has since been taken away to a warship in the mediterranean where US officials are questioning him about his supposed links to al-Qaeda. In turn, the abduction of Mr. Zeidan has aptly demonstrated the weakness of Libya’s government, which has had difficulties inserting its control amongst a number of powerful militias. Militants were angered by the US capture of the suspected militant and have accused the government of either colluding in, or allowing the raid to occur. Furthermore, confusion pertaining to the Prime Minister’s kidnapping was increased after varying reports indicated that he had been arrested. In the absence of an affective police force or military in Libya, many of the militias in the country are under the pay of either the defence or interior ministries however their allegiance and who really controls them is in doubt.
Meanwhile international officials have condemned the kidnapping of Libya’s Prime Minster. The United States has denounced the kidnapping, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling the act “thuggery.” The Secretary of State also noted that “today’s events only underscore the need to work with Prime Minister Zeidan and with all of Libya’s friends and allies to help bolster its capacity with greater speed and greater success,” adding that there could be “no place for this kind of violence in the new Libya.” A statement released by the UN on behalf of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all Libyans to respect the rule of law, noting that “the secretary-general calls on all Libyan parties and the Libyan people to form consensus around national priorities and work towards building a strong, stable country, respectful of the rule of law and the protection of human rights.” officials in France and the UK also pledged swift support for Mr. Zeidan. French President Francois Hollande stated that he stood ready to strengthen ties with Libya in order to tackle the militants. Meanwhile a spokesman for David Cameron indicated that the UK’s prime Minister had spoken to a “calm and measured” Ali Zeidan after his release and had promised to help build a “stable, free, peaceful and prosperous” Libya.
On Monday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture of an alleged al-Qaeda leader who was apprehended on Saturday during two raids that were carried out by US commandos in Libya and Somalia. The US Secretary of State has indicated that the operations in Libya and Somalia showed that the US would never stop “in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror.”
On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed that US commandos captured an alleged al-Qaeda leader, Anas al-Libi, who has been suspected of masterminding the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa. His capture was confirmed by his son, Abdullah al-Raghie, who stated that his father was seized by masked gunmen in Tripoli early on Saturday as he was parking outside his house after returning from morning prayers. He has claimed that the Libyan government was implicated in his father’s disappearance, however officials in Tripoli have denied any involvement.
Amidst calls by officials in Libya on Sunday to receive an explanation pertaining to the special forces raid on its territory, US Secretary of State John Kerry defended the capture, stating on Monday that Anas al-Libi was a “legal and appropriate target.” Speaking to the media on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Indonesia, the Secretary of State further noted that “with respect to Anas al-Libi, he is a key al-Qaeda figure, and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the US military.” When questioned whether the United States had informed Libya prior to the raid, Kerry refused to confirm or deny, stating only that “we don’t get into the specifics of our communications with a foreign government on any kind of operation of this kind.” The operation to capture Libi has drawn fury from the Libyan government, which has since stated that the operation was unauthorized and that Libi had been kidnapped. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s office has also stated that the Prime Minister has requested full clarification on the raid, stressing that Libya was “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.”
According to sources, Anas al-Libi, 49 and whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was married with a daughter and three sons, one of whom was killed in a battle with pro-Kadhafi forces when the rebels entered Tripoli in October 2011. Libi, a computer specialist, left Libya during the early 1990’s when Kadhafi was cracking down on Islamist groups. During that time, Libi joined Bin Laden’s terror organization in Sudan and would later follow the group to Afghanistan before securing political asylum in Britain in 2000. He is believed to have been one of the masterminds behind the 1998 US embassy attacks, which killed more than 200 people in Kenya and Tanzania. On 7 August 1998, a car bomb explosion outside the American embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people, and wounded 5,000. Almost simultaneously, a truck laden with explosives detonated outside the US mission in Tanzania, killed 11 people and leaving another 70 wounded. Al-Qaeda later claimed responsibility for both attacks. When a US court indicted him in connection with the bombings, he fled to Pakistan. Sources have indicated that he returned to Libya shortly after the outbreak of the revolt against Kadhafi, and probably would have fought against the rebels who ousted the longtime dictator.
Libi has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for more than a decade with a US $5 million (£3.1 m) bounty on his head. The raid to capture him came as Western Intelligence agencies increasingly feared that he had been tasked with forming an al-Qaeda network in Libya. According to a US official, shortly after the raid, Libi was taken to a US Navy warship in the region, where he was being questioned. This was confirmed by the Pentagon, which stated that he was being “lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location” outside Libya. The operation in Tripoli ended a thirteen-year manhunt for Libi who was one of the last remaining high-level operatives from the core terror network that was established by bin Laden in the 1990‘s. His arrest paves the way for his extradition to New York to face trial.
With authorities and officials in Libya insisting that they were unaware of the US operation, the capture of the senior al-Qaeda militant is definitely an embarrassment for the fledgling government and could result in outrage amongst the country’s Islamist extremists. While authorities in Libya have been struggling to assert control over the countless numbers of militias that emerged during the 2011 uprising against Moamer Kadhafi, many militias have refused to disarm and effectively now control large portions of the country. Some of the militias in question include hardline Islamists who have accused the post-Kadhafi government of being too close to the West. In turn, reactions to his capture in Libya have been mixed, effectively demonstrating the divide in the country amongst Islamists and their secular opponents.
While the operation in Libya achieved its objective, it remains unclear whether the raid on a beachfront villa in southern Somalia was a success.
On Saturday, US commandos carried out an operation to capture one of the leaders of al-Shabaab however unconfirmed reports have indicated that SEAL commandos were forced to withdraw before confirming the kill. Reports have indicated that the mission was aborted after the commandos encountered fierce resistance from al-Shabaab fighters. The operation, which was carried out by members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden, occured Barawe, which is located 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of the capital city of Mogadishu. A US official has identified the militant as Ikrima, a Kenyan of Somali origin, however Washington has yet to formally name the intended target. When asked on Sunday as to whether officials in Somalia had been aware of the raid, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid stated that “our co-operation with international partners on fighting against terrorism is not a secret.”
In response to the raid, an al-Shabaab military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a fighter was killed during the raid. Al-Shabaab’s commander in the southern Somali port of Barawe, Mohamed Abu Suleiman, also noted that “the enemy of Allah tried to surprise the mujahedeen commanders with a night attack using a military helicopter, but they were taught a lesson and they have failed.” Residents of Barawe reported they were woken by heavy gunfire before dawn prayers and some of them saw commandos, presumed to be from a Western nation, rappelling from a helicopter and attempting to storm a house belonging to a senior al-Shabaab commander. Local media has also reported that two helicopters were involved in the raid. By Saturday morning, residents reported that al-Shabaab militants were heavily deployed on the streets of the town.
The raid comes shortly after al-Shabaab confirmed that it had carried out last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, leaving at least sixty-seven people dead. Sources have indicated that while Ikrimah was not linked to that attack, the raid has prompted fears that the target could be planning a similar assault on other Western targets in the region.
Multiple nations currently operation Special Forces in the wider Horn of Africa region, and many have carried out similar missions in the past. In recent years, both US and French Special Forces have carried out raids on coastal targets in Somalia. Last year, US Navy Seals flying at least six military helicopters carried out an operation to rescue two aid workers held by pirates in northern Somalia. Washington has also used drones in Somalia to support the local government and African Union (AU) forces in their battle against al-Shabaab militants. And earlier this year, France carried out an unsuccessful raid to free a French intelligence agent. On 12 January, elite French forces carried out an overnight operation, involving some fifty troops and at least five helicopters, in southern Somalia. Two French commandos were killed and al-Shabaab later reported that it had killed the agent. With minimal information being released pertaining to Saturday’s raid, it currently remains unclear whether either of these countries was involved. Furthermore, Western navies are present in the region, patrolling the seas off Somalia, which has been beset by conflict for more than two decades. While they have been tasked with fighting piracy, in 2009, US Navy commandos attacked and killed an al-Qaeda leader, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Nabhan, during a daylight raid on Barawe.