Gunmen captured Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan in his heavily guarded luxury hotel early this morning. He was later released, but the kidnapping is another blow to Libya’s new and fragile government.
Reports say the abduction may have been in retaliation for U.S. special forces seizing a Libyan al-Qaida suspect last weekend.
New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick speaks with Here & Now’s Robin Young.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.
And what is going on in Libya? The country's prime minister is free after he was snatched by armed gunmen in the luxury hotel he lives in, reportedly in retaliation for that U.S. Special Forces raid that captured an al-Qaida suspect in Tripoli last weekend.
That man, Abu Anas al-Libi, has been indicted for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa. The prime minister was reportedly freed in a shootout. The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick is in Cairo, Egypt. But, David, what are you hearing about Libya?
DAVID KIRKPATRICK: This appears to be a very Libyan affair. It looks like what happened is a group of militia men did indeed kidnap the prime minister sometime around 2:30 this morning. To dress up their demands, they made an initial statement linking this to the American commando raid that grabbed Abu Anas al-Libi, the al-Qaida terrorist.
But it turns out that their real concerns were more parochial, more about their own payments from the government for security and policing work. And some of the militia men who were involved later put out a statement on the same Facebook page saying, no, no, no, this has nothing to do with Abu Anas.
Sometime later, it emerges that the neighbors in the area where the militia men were keeping the prime minister got wind of it all and they massed themselves, and the superior firepower of the people in this neighborhood persuaded the captors to give up the prime minister without any kind of a firefight.
So there was no resistance in the initial abduction. The community came together. The prime minister was released also without any resistance. And in his public statement, he thanked people across the country for their support and encouragement. And he went out of his way to say this was purely a Libyan affair and involved, in no way, any hostility to foreigners.
YOUNG: Well, this is fascinating because it would be natural to think it had something to do with the snatching. Libyans were very angry - we heard from one on our program - angry that another country would come and snatch a Libyan from their soil. And then after those words of anger, Secretary of State John Kerry said, well, actually, Libyan officials knew about this. So it would be natural to think that these militia members might be reacting to that, that the prime minister might have known in advance and maybe even helped the snatching. But you're saying it had nothing to do with that.
KIRKPATRICK: It might well have. I mean, there are certainly Libyans out there who, if they had the chance, would kidnap the prime minister because they believe he played a role in allowing the U.S. to apprehend Mr. Abu Anas al-Libi. In this particular instance, the kidnappers turned out to be a militia that helps provide security services for Mr. Zidan's own government. They were the ones who took him captive. They're not particularly Islamists in their orientation. And our best information at this hour was that they were really just looking out for their own pocketbook.
YOUNG: Well, what does that tell you, though?
KIRKPATRICK: That Libyans are a lot like the rest of us and that they care somewhat about foreign countries not arresting their fellow citizens on their soil, and they also care about their own livelihood.
YOUNG: But what does it tell you about this new emerging, in-transition Libya that they could get into this luxury hotel and take him for a walk, if you will?
KIRKPATRICK: Yeah, that's not good. That's not good. And hovering over this whole narrative is the underlying fact that the Libyan government continues to depend on these autonomous or semi-autonomous militia as pretty much the main source of security.
The government of Prime Minister Zidan does not have a meaningful army or police force of its own, as witnessed by the lack of resistance to this kidnapping, and that is a very alarming state of affairs for Libya and the Libyan government. And now we've seen it taken to a really new extreme with the actual kidnapping of the prime minister, temporarily though it may have been.
YOUNG: David Kirkpatrick, Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times by Skype in Cairo. David, thanks as always.
KIRKPATRICK: It's a pleasure.
YOUNG: That's not good, David pointed, as always. When we come back, Jeremy Hobson will take a look at the housing market in Phoenix. That's in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.