Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped a Tunisian diplomat in Tripoli. The abduction was confirmed Saturday by Tunisia’s foreign minister.
According to embassy sources, the incident occurred late Friday when the kidnappers forces Mohamed bin Sheikh into their vehicle in the Ain Zara suburb of eastern Tripoli. The diplomat is a secretary to the Tunisian ambassador in Libya.
Speaking Saturday, Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi confirmed that “a Tunisian diplomat was kidnapped in Tripoli…” adding “the Tunisian ambassador told me that his car was found empty.” Tunisia’s ministry is currently in contact with Libyan authorities to obtain more information and to set up efforts to secure Mr Sheikh’s release. They have also urged Libyan authorities to protect members of its diplomatic mission.
Although the motive behind the abduction remains unclear, with no group claiming responsibility or demanding a ransom, some sources have suggested that the move may be linked to Tunisia’s war against its own Ansar al-Sharia, which has connections to Ansar in Libya.
This latest abduction is just one of a string of diplomatic abductions that have occurred in the Libyan capital this year alone. It further demonstrates the weak Libyan government’s struggle to curb militias while it attempts to build a democracy after four decades of dictatorship under Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
In January, five Egyptian diplomats were briefly kidnapped in Tripoli in what security officials stated at the time was in retaliation for Egypt’s arrest of a Libyan militia chief. They were later freed, with Egypt also releasing the militia commander. During the same month, a South Korean trade official was kidnapped as he left his office in Tripoli. He was freed days later by security forces. Libyan officials later stated that his kidnapping was not politically motivated.
Although there has been a rise in the number of abductions of foreign diplomats in Libya, the threat of kidnapping has not been solely focused on officials. In recent months, foreigners have also been targeted, however the motives remain unclear. In December 2013, an American teacher was shot dead in Benghazi while in January, a British man and a New Zealand woman were shot execution-style on a beach in western Libya.
Three years after Libya’s revolt to topple Muammar Gaddafi, the North African country continues to struggle to impose security as brigades of former rebels, Islamist militants and ex-fighters refuse to disarm. While Libyans view these groups as both a blessing and a curse, as on the one hand in the absence of an effective army they provide security across much of the country and protect the borders, on the other hand, they have taken the law into their own hands, with some groups being accused of human rights abuses and unlawful detention. One of the most high-profile incidents involving these militias was the October 2013 kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan by a group which was originally set up to provide security in the capital city. In turn, these militia groups have also been involved in a number of clashes. In November 2013, clashes broke out in the capital between militias from the town of Misrata and local protesters. The incident left more than fifty people dead and hundreds wounded. It also sparked a backlash against the armed groups in Tripoli, resulting in several of the militias leaving the capital, including Misrata and Zintan who had been there ever since the war.