Report: Kidnapped Jordanian ambassador freed

Story highlights

  • News agency: Ambassador Fawaz al-Aytan was freed by his captors
  • Al-Aytan was abducted by masked gunmen last month
  • Officials have frequently been targeted and intimidated by militia groups

Almost a month after he was kidnapped, Jordan's Ambassador to Libya was freed by his captors on Tuesday in an apparent exchange for a Libyan militant jailed in Jordan.

Fawaz al-Aytan was met at an airport in Amman by a delegation of senior Jordanian officials and emotional family members.

He was kidnapped in the Libyan capital on April 15, when armed men ambushed his vehicle and shot and wounded his Moroccan driver.

Al-Aytan appeared to be in good health and spirits as he spoke to reporters outside the airport in the Jordanian capital.

He said he had been treated in a "humane" and "civilized" way by his captors.

The ambassador said his kidnapping was an "isolated incident" specifically for the release of Mohammed al-Drissi, the Libyan Islamist militant who was serving a life sentence in Jordan since 2007.

"The exchange happened in a smooth and civilized way, it ended in a dignified manner" the ambassador told reporters.

While al-Aytan did not provide many details about his 28 days in captivity, he said members of al-Drissi's family were involved in his abduction.

In an interview with CNN Arabic in his hometown in Northern Jordan, al-Aytan said he met al-Drissi on Tuesday morning.

"I met him maybe for a minute this morning in Tripoli after he arrived on a private plane. I greeted him ... as was agreed between all parties" al-Aytan said. "We did embrace and I wished all the best whether he was wrong or right."

Libyan officials confirmed that al-Drissi was returned to Libya, but refused to comment on whom he was handed over to and whether he was in prison or free.

The Jordanian government insisted that the release was not a swap.

"There was no exchange or swap or deal. ... We dealt directly with the Libyan government" Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said in a press conference in Amman.

Judeh said an agreement to transfer al-Drissi to serve the rest of his sentence in Libya had been in the works for months and the kidnapping only "expedited" the transfer.

The Libyan government on Thursday announced that the ministries of Justice of both countries signed a "memorandum of understanding" to allow the transfer of prisoners serving "sentences depriving of liberties".

Analysts and terrorism experts have voiced their concerns over the apparent swap of al-Aytan for al-Drissi, who was was sentenced to life in prison in Jordan in 2007 for a bombing plot targeting the country's main airport.

"This is clearly a swap deal -- the authorities in Jordan and Libya can claim otherwise," said Mohamed Eljarh, a Libya analyst and a contributor to Foreign Policy magazine's "Transitions" blog.

It was "a swap deal between the Jordanian authorities and al-Drissi's comdrades and the best the Libyan authorities could do was to facilitate this deal and set this extremely dangerous precedent," Eljarh said.

Eljarh and other Libyan sources said al-Drissi's family is known amongst the ranks of extremist and Jihadist groups like Ansar al-Sharia in Derna and Benghazi.

"His return to Libya should raise the alarm bells for the Libyan authorities and Libya's friends in the West" Eljarh told CNN.

Fred Burton, vice president of intelligence for the Texas-based global intelligence firm Stratfor, echoed Eljarh's concerns.

"We learned a long time ago that negotiating with terrorists leads to more threats, attacks and kidnappings" Burton, who is also a former U.S. counterterrorism agent told CNN via e-mail Tuesday.

"Unfortunately the exchange will elevate the kidnapping and threat profile for other diplomats in Libya," Burton said.

There are also concerns this could set a dangerous precedent for Jordan, a key U.S. ally that has Jihadists and other al Qaeda linked militants in its jails.

Diplomats and officials have been frequently targeted by militias and extremist groups that have grown in size and influence in Libya since the 2011 revolution.

The worst such attack on September 11, 2012, was on the American consulate in Benghazi in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

After a string of attacks before and after the assault on the consulate, most countries closed their diplomatic missions in Benghazi where the almost daily violence in the city is blamed on Islamist extremist groups.

There have also been attacks on embassies and kidnappings of diplomats in the capital Tripoli, where even a prime minister was kidnapped for several hours in October.

So far this year, Egyptian diplomats, a South Korean official and a Tunisian Embassy employee were kidnapped in the Libyan capital.

The two Tunisians, a diplomat and a member of staff remain abducted.

In a video released last month by a Jihadist group, a man said to be one of the two Tunisians, was seen crying and begging the Tunisian government to negotiate with his captors.

The group is demanding the release of Tunisian Islamist militants imprisoned by Tunis.

There are increasing worries about the rising threat posed by extremist groups operating in Libya.

A recently released annual report by the U.S. State Department on global terrorism trends singled out Libya as an area of concern and instability.

"Libya's porous borders, the weakness of Libya's nascent security institutions, and large amounts of loose small arms create opportunities for violent extremists," the report said.

READ: Amanpour blog: West should have put boots on the ground in Libya, says former prime minister