Libyan Senior Official Kidnapped Amid Crackdown on Militias

A senior aide to Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zaidan is missing for a third day after being kidnapped amid a crackdown by the government on militias.

Mohammed Ghatus was returning from his home in the western city of Misrata on March 31 when he was seized at a checkpoint in Tripoli, the prime minister’s office said in a statement today. There has been no contact from him since though his car has been found, according to the statement.

As news of the kidnapping broke, Zaidan and Justice Minister Salah Maraghni announced the seizure by government forces of 36 compounds and bases in the capital used by militias during a crackdown that began last week.

“They are terrorising the state,” Zaidan said during a news conference. “We will not surrender.”

Intra-militia violence has been a constant in Libya ever since the capture and death of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, though it has intensified in recent months with groups refusing to heed government calls to disband, threatening local officials and storming government buildings. The unrest is undermining Libya’s aim to attract foreign investment.

Ghatus was probably kidnapped as a result of the crackdown, said Anthony Skinner, director at U.K.-based risk analysis company Maplecroft, adding that he’s unsure of Zaidan’s ability to rein the militias in.

“The authorities in Tripoli don’t have the manpower to bring all the militias under control,” Skinner said. “One needs to be cautious about the chances of success.”

Illegal Prisons

During the news conference, Justice Minister Salah Maraghni said illegal prisons are being closed as part of the campaign. An estimated 8,000 war prisoners are being held in detention by militias and the justice ministry, according to Human Rights Watch.

Maraghni also said he wasn’t concerned about a militia raid on his ministry, which took place hours before the kidnapping.

“You can bring down a building,” he said. “You can kill the justice minister, but you cannot kill justice itself.”

There are about 500 militias in Libya, with 230 registered in Misrata alone. The government campaign is targeting those not sanctioned by the state in Tripoli and will soon extend to the eastern city of Benghazi, Zaidan said.

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