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Gunmen kidnap Jordan's ambassador to Libya

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 - 9:43am IST | Place: Tripoli | Agency: AFP
  • Jordanian-embassy-in-Tripoli-Libya. The Jordanian embassy in Tripoli, Libya. AFP

Masked gunmen kidnapped Jordan's ambassador to Libya as he rode to work in Tripoli on Tuesday, shooting at his car and wounding his driver, officials said.

The incident was the latest targeting Libyan leaders and foreign diplomats in the increasingly lawless North African country, three years after NATO-backed rebels ended autocratic leader Muammar Gaddafi's four-decade long rule.

"The Jordanian ambassador was kidnapped this morning. His convoy was attacked by a group of hooded men on board two civilian cars," Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Said Lassoued said.

Security and medical officials in Tripoli said the ambassador's driver – reportedly a Moroccan – suffered two gunshot wounds but that his life was no longer in danger after surgery.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur urged the Libyan authorities to secure the safe release of the kingdom's ambassador, Fawaz Aitan. "According to the information we have, unknown masked civilians kidnapped Aitan this morning as he headed to work," he told an emergency meeting of Jordan's parliament. "We call on the Libyan government and Libyan people to work on preserving his life and freeing him."

Nsur vowed to do "what it takes" to free Aitan.

The ambassador's family in Amman said they learned about his abduction by mere chance. "My mother learned about the abduction of my uncle through one of the satellite channels before calling the authorities," nephew Osaid said. "We don't know why he was kidnapped or if he received threats before the abduction. The situation in Libya is unstable and we are not aware of the kidnappers' demands."

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) condemned the kidnapping "in the strongest terms", urging Libya to "work towards the safe release of the ambassador".

Diplomats in Tripoli say militias that fought to topple the Gaddafi regime often carry out kidnappings to blackmail other countries into releasing Libyans held abroad.

No demands from kidnappers

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Amman had yet to receive any demands from the kidnappers. "We realise that the security situation in Libya is very difficult. Until now, we did not receive any additional information from the kidnappers," he was quoted as saying by the state-run Petra news agency.

National carrier Royal Jordanian said it cancelled Tuesday's scheduled flight to Tripoli following the ambassador's abduction, and was in touch with Libyan authorities about future plans. Royal Jordanian also operates flights to the Libyan cities of Benghazi and Misrata.

The abduction came two days after Libya's prime minister Abdullah al-Thani stepped down, saying he and his family had been the victims of a "traitorous" armed attack. Thani quit less than a week after parliament tasked him with forming a new cabinet and a month after it ousted his predecessor for failing to rein in the insecurity gripping the country.

Libya has seen near-daily attacks targeting security forces, a rebellion that blockaded vital oil terminals for nine months and a growing crisis stemming from the interim parliament's decision to extend its mandate.

The United States embassy said a Libyan security guard who worked at the mission had escaped her captors after being kidnapped a day earlier. Embassy spokesman Joe Mellott said the woman had been wounded but that she was in hospital recovering and her life was not in danger. He said the incident was not linked to her work at the embassy. A Libyan security source said the woman was kidnapped during a carjacking and had been shot.

Last month, an employee of Tunisia's embassy was also kidnapped. And in January, gunmen seized five Egyptian diplomats and held them for several hours. Two assailants were killed in October when protesters attacked Russia's embassy in Tripoli, and a car bomb attack on the French embassy wounded two guards a year ago.

On September 11, 2012, an attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 revolt, killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American citizens.

Libya is awash with weapons from the 2011 conflict, and authorities have struggled to establish security by integrating anti-Gaddafi militias into the regular army or police force.


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