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Militia storms hotel in Libya after guest told to pay overdue bill

From Jomana Karadsheh and Talia Kayali
updated 10:01 PM EDT, Sat March 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Armed militia members storm hotel and open fire
  • The hotel's manager is kidnapped and beaten, he says
  • The incident occurred after a guest is told to pay his bill or vacate
  • It highlights the growing threat of armed militias to the country's stability

(CNN) -- Armed members of a Libyan militia burst into a luxury hotel in the capital Tripoli on Saturday and opened fire after one of their members was told to pay an outstanding bill or vacate, sources and hotel officials said.

No casualties were reported, but the Rixos Hotel's general manager, Sukru Kocak, told CNN he was beaten and kidnapped. Kocak, who is Turkish, said he was released only after the Turkish Embassy and other officials contacted the Libyan government on his behalf. The luxury Rixos is owned by a Turkish company.

The incident began after hotel officials demanded that a guest, identified by sources as Ali Daw Zintani, pay six months' worth of overdue charges or be forced to leave the hotel. Zintani left the hotel and returned with dozens of armed men, who smashed through the front door and shot weapons into the air, witnesses said.

Kocak was taken to Zintani's office in the Fallah area of Tripoli where he said he was beaten, suffering injuries to his knees and a burst ear drum, causing him to lose hearing in his right ear. It's unclear if the damage to his hearing is permanent.

Before the news of Kocak's release, Mohammed Madani, a commander of one of the Zintan militias in Tripoli, said the manager was not detained but was taken for questioning and the issue "has been resolved."

A hotel official said Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council, will visit the hotel Sunday to formally apologize. Officials with the Turkish government could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The incident highlights the threat of armed militias to Libya's stability. More than a year after the start of the Libyan revolution, human rights groups describe a nation of lawless militias who commit crimes with impunity and threaten to destabilize the nation by hindering efforts to rebuild.

"We don't hold the Libyan people responsible for this," Kocak said. "We know it is done by a few people. We were the first international company that returned to Libya in September. We like Libya and will continue liking Libya. We have held many events with high-level dignitaries attending and will continue doing so."

The hotel was closed for business on Saturday due to the security situation, but it will reopen for business by Monday, officials said.

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