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Armed men kidnap Libyan forces chief’s son

Libyan militia leader Ibrahim al-Jathran, head of an autonomy movement in Cyrenaica province. Photo: Reuters

Libyan militia leader Ibrahim al-Jathran, head of an autonomy movement in Cyrenaica province. Photo: Reuters

Gunmen kidnapped the son of the Libyan army’s special forces commander yesterday, the latest high-profile abduction in the eastern city of Benghazi where the military has been battling Islamist militants.

“He was leaving college when two cars blocked his way and dragged him away,” Special Forces commander Col. Wanies Bukhmada said, describing his son’s abduction.

Cars blocked his way and dragged him away

More than two years after the revolt that ended the 42-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s fragile government and nascent army are struggling to control brigades of former rebels and militants who fought in the uprising but have refused to disarm.

No group claimed responsibility for yesterday’s kidnap, but the army has been fighting brigades from the hardline Islamist movement Ansar al-Sharia for months in Benghazi.

The group has been blamed for an attack on the US consulate in the city in 2012, in which the ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Meanwhile, support is ebbing in east Libya for a six-month blockade of its three oil ports, and for former rebel commander Ibrahim al-Jathran whose force led the seizure.

Even Jathran’s own tribe and leaders in its hometown speak angrily about getting exports flowing again as capital Tripoli warns it may no longer be able to pay public salaries because the blockade has slashed oil revenues.

Surveying the potholed roads and abandoned buildings of Ajdabiya, mayor Salem Abdullah is all for fighting for more autonomy and oil wealth from the central government – but not for the blockade. “We are opposed to the closure of the oil ports,” he said. “This has had a very, very negative impact.”

Many in the impoverished town had long sympathised with Jathran, who was jailed under Muammar Gaddafi and fought alongside rebels to help oust the autocratic leader in 2011. Despite its proximity to the oil ports of Brega and Zueitina, Ajdabiya never enjoyed the benefits of oil wealth.

Burned-out tanks and cars sit just outside, testimony to heavy fighting between rebels and Gaddafi troops.

Many in the town now question the credentials of Jathran, the self-appointed defender of the east, the cradle of the revolution. In his early 30s, he is considered young for a leader in a conservative society dominated by tribal elders.

“The right way for us to have been represented would be by elections,” Abdullah said, slamming his right hand on the office desk in frustration. “If you want to represent by force you cannot talk in the name of the people.”

Jathran’s al-Magharba tribe is pressuring him to withdraw his men to free up at least 600,000 barrels a day of badly needed oil exports.

Several meetings have been held though an attempt to negotiate failed in December.

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