Kidnappings in Libya Tit for tat
THE release on May 13th of the Jordanian ambassador to Libya (pictured, centre, above), who was abducted in Tripoli in April, may have set a dangerous precedent. To secure the release of Fawaz al-Itan, the government in Amman reportedly agreed to return a Libyan militant serving a life sentence in Jordan.
Mr Itan, who was held hostage for 28 days after gunmen ambushed his vehicle and shot his driver, described the abduction as an “isolated incident” intended to obtain the release of Mohammed al-Drissi, who was convicted in 2007 of plotting to blow up the airport in Amman. Jordanian officials say Mr Drissi’s family, well-known among Benghazi’s militants, was involved in the kidnapping.
The exchange is likely to further embolden Libya’s many armed groups, who have resorted to hostage-taking either for ransom or to secure the release of associates at home or abroad. Diplomats have been increasingly targeted. Since the start of the year, five Egyptian diplomats, two Tunisian embassy staff and a South Korean trade official have been kidnapped in the Libyan capital. The Tunisians are still being held. In a video aired in April, one of the Tunisians implored his government to negotiate with his kidnappers who are demanding the release of Libyan jihadists jailed in Tunis.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser al-Judeh, played down suggestions of a deal over Mr Drissi, insisting that the two governments had only “expedited” negotiations already underway for his transfer under the Riyadh Convention, which allows prisoners to serve out sentences in their home country. Libyan officials confirmed that Mr Drissi was returned to Libya, but would not comment on whether he was in custody or free. ****(he is free)
Tripoli has been pressing several governments, including those in Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, to release Libyan Islamists. The issue has become a cause célèbre within militant circles in Libya since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi.
There are concerns in Jordan, a close American ally, that Mr Drissi’s release could encourage the nabbing of Jordanians elsewhere. The kingdom’s prisons hold several prominent militants, including a cleric, Abu Qatada, who was deported from Britain last year, and Muhammad Maqdisi, an influential Islamist ideologue.
The deal is also likely to be noted by al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who last month urged the kidnapping of Westerners, particularly Americans, to use as bargaining chips for freeing jailed jihadists. A blind Egyptian cleric, Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack New York’s World Trade Centre, is one person many jihadists would like to see set free.