Libya’s attempted coup: Inside the kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zidan

The Daily Beast reports: They came in the dead of night in pick-up-trucks and battered cars, surprising a police checkpoint and moving quickly in a precise military-style configuration befitting fighters who helped to bring down Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorial rule.

Their target this time wasn’t a despot but the elected leader of post-Gaddafi Libya, Prime Minister Ali Zidan, whose brief abduction on Thursday marked yet another low for a country struggling to establish order and stricken by a spate of kidnappings and assassinations over the past year—including the razing of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the death of American ambassador Christopher Stevens. On Friday, a day after the Prime Minister’s abduction, a car bomb exploded outside of the Swedish consulate in Benghazi, damaging the building and nearby houses.

The militiamen, angry over a U.S. Special Forces team seizing of suspected al-Qaeda bigwig Abu Anas al-Liby in Tripoli seven days ago, used pick-up trucks equipped with anti-aircraft guns to block entrances to the luxury Corinthia Hotel in downtown Tripoli where Zidan resides in a suite on the 22nd floor.

Witnesses, including guards assigned to the hotel by the Interior Ministry, say about 400 gunmen were involved in the abduction and that the leaders marched into the cavernous, marble-floored lobby demanding to know from alarmed nighttime staff the whereabouts of the Prime Minister. A receptionist was hauled off when he refused to say. The gunmen brandished a warrant for Zidan’s arrest on national security and corruption charges, signed by the Prosecutor General, says Khalil Yahia, the head of the government security team at the Corinthia, which also houses several foreign missions.

“I was shocked,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘How could they have an arrest warrant for the Prime Minister?’” The militiamen grabbed most of the hotel’s surveillance equipment and tapes. “There was no gunfire—we only had about half-a-dozen guards on duty. There wasn’t anything we could do. I didn’t call for reinforcements, because these people—the ones waving the warrant—would have been the people detailed to be the reinforcements.” [Continue reading…]

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