Former rebels have freed Libya’s prime minister after holding him for several hours in reprisal for the capture by US forces at the weekend of a Libyan al-Qaeda suspect in Tripoli.
“I am fine, thank God,” Ali Zeidan tweeted after his release. “If the aim of the kidnapping operation was for me to present my resignation, then I won’t resign.
“We are taking small steps, but in the right direction.”
Zeidan was seized at dawn from a luxury hotel where he lives under tight security and was held for about six hours.
Two years after a revolution ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, Libya is in turmoil, with its vulnerable central government and nascent armed forces struggling to contain rival tribal groups and fighters who control parts of the country.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from London, Middle East analyst Abdel Bari Atwan said the incident confirmed that “Libya is a failed state”.
“The rebels have the upper hand and the army cannot intervene. It is chaos. This is a huge embarrassment for the government,” Atwan said.
The rebel group, which had been hired by the government to provide security in Tripoli, said it “arrested” Zeidan after US Secretary of State John Kerry said Libya had a role in the weekend capture in the city of Abu Anas al-Liby.
“His arrest comes after … (Kerry) said the Libyan government was aware of the operation,” a spokesman for the group, known as the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries, said.
Before his release, an official in the Interior Ministry anti-crime department told the state news agency that Zeidan, a former diplomat and exile opposition activist against Gaddafi, was being held there and was being treated well.
The Libyan government in a statement confirmed the prime minister was taken at dawn to “an unknown place for unknown reasons”.
The prime minister, who is in his early 60s, was taken from the Corinthia Hotel, where many diplomats and top government officials live. It is regarded as one of the most secure places in Tripoli.
The capture, however brief, raised the stakes in the unruly OPEC nation, where the regional factions are also seeking control over its oil wealth, which provides Libya with the vast bulk of government revenues.
Brent oil prices rose on the news.
“Everybody is watching this… We still haven’t seen any disruption to supply from Libya, so we don’t expect a spike in prices,” said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity sales manager at Newedge Japan.
A mix of striking workers, militias and political activists have blocked Libya’s oilfields and ports for more than two months, according to Oil Minister Abdelbari Arusi, resulting in over $5bn of lost revenues.
He said on October 2 that oil exports could return to full capacity in days once the strikes ended.
Repsol and Eni, involved in western Libya, have seen output largely restored since fields reopened last month. But companies invested in eastern Libya are entering a third month of closures at several important export terminals.
Oil companies have become more wary of North Africa after an attack in January on the Amenas gas plant in neighbouring Algeria, a top gas supplier to Europe and an oil-producing OPEC member.