Libya Gunmen Kidnap Deputy Foreign Minister

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Published Sunday, January 25, 2015

Updated at 2:43 pm (GMT +2): Gunmen kidnapped a Libyan deputy foreign minister from his hotel room on Sunday in the eastern city of al-Baida where the recognized government is based, a ministry official said.

The kidnappers told staff they were members of the security forces when they entered the hotel before dawn, the official said, citing witnesses.

They drove deputy minister Hassan al-Saghir off to an unknown destination.

No group immediately claimed his abduction, but Libya has been rocked by a spate of kidnappings of both Libyans and foreigners since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

More than three years since dictator Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed, Libya is awash with weapons and powerful militias and has rival governments and parliaments.

Western powers who backed the military uprising against Gaddafi fear that extremists, who they armed and trained during the uprising, are seeking to exploit a power vacuum in the oil-producing nation.

Last August, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani and his cabinet were forced to leave Tripoli for the east when militants from Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) seized the capital. The new rulers of Tripoli have set up their own administration, the General National Congress (GNC), which has not been recognized by the United Nations and world powers.

Al-Baida lies 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Tripoli. The government established its headquarters in the city after initially taking refuge in the towns of Tobruk and Shohat further east.

Gunmen kill Libyan officer

Meanwhile, gunmen opened fire on Libyan police guarding a UN building in the capital Tripoli, killing one officer, state media and the UN said on Saturday.

On Friday, gunmen shot from a passing car at policemen on duty outside the office of the UN development agency UNDP in Tripoli, a state news agency and the UN mission to Libya (UNSMIL) said.

One officer died of his wounds in hospital.

"UN staff were not involved in the incident," the UN said in a statement.

The United Nations and most Western and Arab countries evacuated their diplomats in the summer during fighting between rival factions who are battling for control of the oil-producing state.

Bombs exploded in November near the Egyptian and United Arab Emirates embassies and last week outside Algeria's mission.

Libya's Ansar al-Sharia Confirms Chief's Death

Libya's Ansar al-Sharia jihadist group on Saturday confirmed the death of its leader Mohammed al-Zahawi, after Islamist websites reported he had been mortally wounded in fighting in October.

"We mourn the death of the Emir of Ansar al-Sharia Sheikh Mohammed al-Zahawi," the group said in a statement, without giving details about the time or circumstances of his death.

Zahawi's fate has been a mystery since the October clashes between pro-government forces and Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi in which dozens died.

Zahawi, who was jailed under the regime of Gaddafi, took part in the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed the strongman. He had also fought in al-Qaeda ranks in Afghanistan.

Zahawi "was killed in Benina clashes near the Benghazi airport, southeast of the city," the Islamist militias February 17 Martyrs and Rafallah al-Sahati Brigades said on Facebook on Saturday.

A source at the Shura council of Benghazi rebels also confirmed his death to AFP saying "Zahawi was killed in the Benina clashes on October 11."

"He was buried in Sirte (west of the city) after efforts to save his live failed because he had received a direct hit in the chest and was suffering from diabetes," the source added.

An army officer, who did not wish to be named, said the military learned of Zahawi's death from an "Ansar al-Sharia militant who was made prisoner and who confirmed the news.”

Ansar al-Sharia is classified by the United States and the United Nations as a terrorist organization. It has branches in Benghazi, in the eastern city of Derna, and in Sirte, in central Libya.

In November, the United Nations blacklisted Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi and its sister group, Ansar al-Sharia Derna, over links to al-Qaeda and for running camps for the Islamist State group.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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