Five Egyptian diplomats kidnapped in Tripoli in retaliation for Egypt’s arrest of a Libyan militia chief on Saturday pleaded for Cairo to free him to secure their release.
Gunmen snatched four diplomatic staff from their homes in the Libyan capital on Saturday, including Egypt’s cultural attache, and kidnapped another on Friday, forcing Cairo to evacuate its embassy and its Benghazi consulate.
The kidnappings underlined Libya’s persistent chaos two years after former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s fall, with heavily armed former rebels and Islamist militants who fought in the uprising still challenging state authority.
Branding themselves Libyan revolutionaries, the kidnappers contacted al-Arabiya television channel to demand that Libyan militia chief Shaban Hadia be released in 24 hours and put one of the Egyptian diplomats on the line.
“The kidnappers have demands and we ask these demands are met and the defendant Abu Hadia be released,” a man called Shirbini from the Egyptian Cultural Center told the channel.
“We won’t free the diplomats unless the sheikh is freed within 24 hours,” one of the kidnappers said, without giving details of what would happen after that deadline.
Hadia is a commander in the Islamist-leaning Operations Room for Libya Revolutionaries, one of the many militias that fought Qaddafi in the 2011 NATO-backed uprising, but which have since refused to disarm and accept Tripoli’s authority.
The Operations Room, whose fighters were nominally hired by the Libyan government to secure Tripoli, was accused of abducting Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in Tripoli in October last year.
The group denied it was involved in the Egyptian kidnappings, but on Friday said there would be a strong response if Hadia was not released.
Libyan officials said they were in contact with the kidnappers and an Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman confirmed Hadia was under investigation in Egypt.
“If there is no charge at the end of it then he will be released,” he told al-Arabiya.