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Libya prime minister: Kidnapping was an attempted 'coup'

By Nic Robertson. Yousuf Basil and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 12:36 AM EDT, Sun October 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from his hotel room
  • He was released by a militia that he says was carrying forged papers
  • Zeidan says the militia claimed to have a warrant for his arrest
  • He calls his abduction a "coup against legitimacy"

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on Friday described his kidnapping this week as an attempted coup carried out by political opponents bent on toppling his government.

Zeidan was abducted early Thursday from a luxury hotel in Tripoli and held for several hours by militia gunmen before being released, an incident that has highlighted the security threat posed by militias that have run rampant since the revolution that ousted Moammar Gadhafi two years ago.

"I don't believe that 100 cars armed with heavy weapons can surround the hotel and lock it down and create checkpoints to prevent people from passing ... without an order from their leadership," Zeidan said in televised remarks.

"...This was coup, a coup against the legitimacy" of the government.

How Libyan PM's abduction happened

Zeidan blamed political opponents for his abduction, saying they had been trying to take over the government.

He said his abductors identified themselves as members of the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries, a militia group.

Zeidan said his abductors, who forced their way into his room at the Corinthia Hotel before dawn, were carrying forged papers and claimed they had orders from Libya's general prosecutor.

The five-star hotel that Zeidan calls home is popular among government officials, some of whom reside there, including the justice minister.

He said the gunmen entered a number of hotel rooms belonging to diplomatic and international missions.

"They entered my room forcefully and took me, and I couldn't stop them," Zeidan said, adding that they ransacked his room.

He said they took documents and his computer.

In remarks to a Cabinet meeting broadcast on Libyan state TV on Thursday, Zeidan said he did not want to see the situation escalate and urged Libyans to show "wisdom."

But the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries said it merely detained him over financial and administrative corruption charges.

However, the Justice Ministry said there was no arrest warrant for Zeidan, calling the move a kidnapping.

The militia works with the Interior Ministry -- a not altogether uncommon practice in Libya, which has tried unsuccessfully to rein in the many militia groups. Instead, various ministries have teamed up with them for their own needs, including providing security services.

Armed militias have roamed the country largely unchecked since the 2011 ouster of Gadhafi.

Gangs of armed men have surrounded key ministries, including the Justice Ministry, trying to force out members of the democratically elected government.

Justice Minister Salah Marghani was forced to evacuate after armed militias surrounded his ministry in April.

Libyan intelligence services have warned that the country is becoming a haven for al Qaeda to regroup and regenerate itself.

Numerous weapons left over after Gadhafi's downfall are providing groups with different motivations to form their own militias, government officials said.

CNN's Nic Robertson reported from Tripoli; Yousuf Basil and Chelsea J. Carter from Atlanta. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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