Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been freed from captivity just hours after gunmen abducted him at dawn from the hotel where he lives in the capital, Tripoli.
The brazen abduction – apparently in retaliation for the US special forces’ raid over the weekend that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect from the streets of Tripoli – reflected the deep chaos and lawlessness gripping Libya.
Government spokesman Mohammed Kaabar told the LANA news agency that Mr Zeidan has been “set free” and was on his way to his office. The brief report gave no further information and details were sketchy, but it appeared Libyan forces had intervened in some way and that the abductors did not free him voluntarily.
A militia commander affiliated with the Interior Ministry said that the prime minister was freed when members of a Tripoli-based militia stormed the house where he was held hostage.
Haitham al-Tajouri, commander of the so-called Reinforcement Force, told Al-Hurrah television that his men exchanged fire with the captors but that Mr Zeidan was not hurt.
“He is now safe in a safe place,” he said. His account could not be independently verified.
Mr Zeidan’s abduction reflected the weakness of Libya’s government, which is virtually held hostage by powerful militias, many of which are made up of Islamic militants. Militants were angered by the US capture of the suspected militant, known as Abu Anas al-Libi, and accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid.
In a sign of Libya’s chaos, Mr Zeidan’s seizure was depicted by various sources as either an “arrest” or an abduction – reflecting how interwoven militias are in Libya’s fragmented power structure.
With the country’s police and army in disarray, many are enlisted to serve in state security agencies, though their loyalty is more to their own commanders than to government officials and they have often intimidated or threatened officials. The militias are rooted in the brigades that fought in the uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and are often referred to as “revolutionaries”.
On Tuesday, Mr Zeidan said the Libyan government had requested that Washington allow al-Libi’s family to establish contact with him. Mr Zeidan insisted that Libyan citizens should be tried in their homeland if they are accused of crimes, stressing that “Libya does not surrender its sons”.
Al-Libi is alleged to be a senior al-Qaida member and is wanted by the United States in connection to the bombing of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, with a $5m (£3.1m) bounty on his head.
Immediately after the raid, the Libyan government issued a statement saying it was carried out without its knowledge and asking Washington for “clarifications” about the operation.
“The US was very helpful to Libya during the revolution and the relations should not be affected by an incident, even if it is a serious one,” Mr Zeidan told a news conference in Tripoli.
Mr Zeidan was shown later on Libyan TV arriving at his cabinet office. He is expected to address the nation later on Thursday to explain what happened.
Three soldiers and a policeman were killed when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a checkpoint outside a coastal city in Egypt’s volatile Sinai Peninsula.
The bomber slowly approached the checkpoint outside the city of al-Arish and waited for soldiers and policemen to start searching the car before he blew himself and his vehicle up. Five other people were wounded.
Islamic militants have been attacking security forces in Sinai for years but the frequency of the attacks has dramatically grown since the ousting of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in a July coup.