TRIPOLI, LIBYA (CBS/AP) -- Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan was freed from captivity just hours after gunmen abducted him Thursday at dawn from the hotel where he resides in the capital, Tripoli, according to the state news agency.
The abduction could have been retaliation for the U.S. special forces' raid over the weekend that seized a Libyan al Qaeda suspect from the streets of the capital, but one of the myriad militias operating in the country with apparent links to state security services said he was not kidnapped, but arrested as part of an ongoing investigation into fraud and corruption.
Regardless of whether Zidan's brief abduction was a kidnap by armed militants, or a pseudo-coup meant to reflect the will of the Libyan people, it showed clearly the weakness of Libya's central government which has, for all intents and purposes, been held hostage by the powerful militias that filled the power vacuum in the country after the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Government spokesman Mohammed Kaabar told the LANA new agency that Zidan 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 Zidan voluntarily.
A militia commander affiliated with the Interior Ministry told a private Libyan television station 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 Zidan was not hurt.
"He is now safe in a safe place," he said. His account could not be independently verified.
Many of the militias in Libya are made up of Islamic militants, including some which have formed formal or informal partnerships with the interim government to provide security in areas where the government itself has had virtually no control on the ground since Qaddafi's ouster and murder in 2011. Even in the capital Tripoli, quasi-governmental militias have been seen regularly patrolling the streets in heavily armed convoys.
A conglomerate of these militias -- including some of the most powerful Islamic fundamentalist groups operating in the country's lawless east, around Benghazi -- issued a statement earlier this week vowing to avenge the U.S. capture of the alleged senior al Qaeda operative known as Abu Anas al-Libi, and accusing Zidan's government of colluding in or allowing the raid.
One of the groups behind the threat was the powerful Ansar al-Sharia, which is believed to have been directly involved in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic posts in Benghazi which left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
Qaddafi's ouster left the country's police and army in disarray, and many of the militias who fought in the Arab Spring-inspired uprising to topple him were enlisted to serve in state security agencies, though their loyalty has generally remained more to their own commanders than to government officials, and the groups have often intimidated or threatened officials.
A statement on the government's official website said Zidan was taken at dawn to an "unknown location for unknown reasons" by a group believed to be "revolutionaries" from a security agency known as the Anti-Crime Committee. The Cabinet held an emergency meeting Thursday morning, headed by Zidan's deputy, Abdel-Salam al-Qadi.
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