Libya's deputy intel chief freed as governor dodges assassination

After a violent weekend in Tripoli, local leaders call for expulsion of militia groups and strike

Colonel Abdallah al-Saati, head of the joint security room and military governor of Benghazi, escaped a bomb attack targeting his life on Monday.
Mohammed Elshaiky/Anadolu/Getty

Kidnappers on Monday freed Libya's deputy intelligence chief a day after he was abducted from Tripoli's international airport, according to a senior parliamentary security committee official.

Mustafa Noah, the head of agency's espionage unit, was pulled into a vehicle in a parking garage on Sunday, the security sources said, but few other details were made available.

Also Monday, the military governor of Libya's restive city of Benghazi escaped an assassination attempt that killed a member of his entourage and seriously wounded another.

No group claimed responsibility for either the abduction or the assassination attempt, but militias have snatched officials in the past to get political leverage.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted by a government-payrolled militia group last month, but freed unharmed after a few hours.

The targeting of high-profile officials comes amidst growing outrage in Libya against the country’s warring militia groups.

Over the weekend, clashes between rival militias killed nearly 50 people in Tripoli and injured 450 others in the worst violence to hit the capital city since the overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The incident caused local leaders to issue a statement demanding that all militia groups leave the city within 72 hours.

Khalil al-Ruwairi, who leads a unit under the Misrata Shield brigade – affiliated with the Ministry of Defense – told the BBC that his fighters would leave the capital.

The frustration has also prompted a three-day general strike in Tripoli. On Monday, the second day of the strike, the city was quiet and only essential services such as bakeries, gas stations and hospitals were operating.

The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, announced it would deploy troops to secure Tripoli and appealed to residents to support and help them.

Libya's militias originated in the "revolutionary" brigades that fought against Gaddafi's forces in 2011. Since his ouster and death, they have refused to disarm and have grown in size and power. Many have been enlisted by the state to serve as security forces, since the army and police remain weak, under-equipped and underpaid.

But many continue to act as armed vigilante factions with their own interests, sometimes turning political feuds into armed conflicts.

Too weak to disarm the militias, the military, police and government have tried to co-opt them, paying them to take on security roles such as guarding districts, facilities, and even polling stations during elections. But the policy has backfired, empowering the militias without controlling them.

Adm. William McRaven, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said Saturday that the U.S. would train up to 7,000 troops and counterterrorism forces in Libya to undercut the government’s reliance on these militias.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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