Archive for October 18, 2013


September 25, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Nearly a dozen of Syria’s powerful rebel factions, including one linked to al-Qaida, formally broke with the main opposition group in exile Wednesday and called for Islamic law in the country, dealing a severe blow to the Western-backed coalition.

The new alliance is a potential turning point, entrenching the schism within the rebellion and giving President Bashar Assad fuel for his long-stated contention that his regime is battling Islamic extremists in the civil war.

The Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition — the political arm of the Free Syrian Army rebel group — has long been accused by those fighting inside Syria of being a puppet promoted by the West and Gulf Arab states supporting the Syrian rebellion.

Wednesday’s public rejection of the coalition’s authority will likely be extremely damaging for its future in Syria, particularly at a time when the U.S. and Russia are pushing for peace talks. “If the groups involved stand by this statement, I think this could be a very big deal — especially if it develops into a more-structured alliance instead of just a joint position,” said political analyst Aron Lund.

“It basically means that some of the biggest mainstream Islamist forces within the so-called FSA are breaking up with the political leadership appointed for them by the West and Gulf states, to cast their lot with more hard-line and anti-Western Islamists,” he said.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the coalition elected an interim prime minister, Ahmad Touma, charging him with organizing governance in opposition-held territories that have descended into chaos and infighting.

In a joint statement, 11 rebel groups that are influential in Aleppo province in the north, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, said they rejected the authority of the Syrian National Coalition as well as Touma’s appointment.

A video on the Internet showed Abdel-Aziz Salameh, political chief of the Liwaa al-Tawheed brigade that is particularly strong in the northern city of Aleppo, reading the statement. “These forces call on all military and civilian forces to unite under a clear Islamic framework based on Sharia law, which should be the sole source of legislation,” the signatories said.

Ominously, the rebel groups’ statement was titled “Communique No. 1,” a term used in Arab countries following military coups that suggests the creation of a new leadership body. It said the rebels do “not recognize” any future government formed outside Syria, insisting that forces fighting inside the country should be represented by “those who suffered and took part in the sacrifices.”

The statement highlighted the growing irrelevance of the coalition and its military arm headed by Gen. Salim Idris, who leads the Supreme Military Council supported by the West, amid increasing radicalization in Syria. The group is seen by many as being out of touch.

Veteran opposition figure Kamal Labwani, a member of the coalition, said the U.S. decision to back away from military intervention in retaliation to the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus and the perceived Western indifference to Syrian suffering was turning fighters in Syria into “monsters.”

“We as a coalition are very removed from the ground now. There is no geographic spot we can enter in the liberated areas. The situation is worse than you can ever imagine,” he said. Najib Ghadbian, the Syrian National Coalition’s U.N. representative, acknowledged in an interview with AP Television News that there was a “growing rift” between the mainstream FSA and extremist groups. He said Idris had cut short a trip to Paris to deal with the rebel announcement.

The U.S. decision had created “a lot of frustration,” he added. “The longer we wait, the more … difficult it is going to become,” Ghadbian said in New York. “Nothing is going to be, in fact, left to save of Syria.”

For many rebels, the realization that even a chemical weapons attack would not trigger military intervention by the West has led to more radicalization. Last week, al-Qaida militants expelled FSA fighters from a town near the Turkish border after some of the worst clashes between the two sides. An al-Qaida commander in the north was assassinated by FSA fighters a day later.

Wednesday’s statement came hours after a delegation from the coalition, headed by Ahmad al-Jarba, met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in New York. It also came as a team of experts arrived in Damascus to continue investigating allegation on the use of chemical weapons in the civil war.

The U.S. and Russia have been pushing for a peace conference in Geneva. One opposition figure said the rebel announcement breaking from the coalition may be related to concerns it may agree to go to the talks.

“It is part of political jostling for representation ahead of any talks,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the he was not authorized to talk about the discussions under way in New York.

Al-Jarba met Wednesday with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in New York. Al-Jarba said the coalition expressed readiness to attend talks in Geneva aimed at establishing a transitional government with full executive powers and a clear timetable for an agreement that those in Assad’s regime responsible for war crimes against civilians would be held accountable and not be part of a future democratic Syria.

“The time has come to end the conflict in Syria,” said al-Jarba, according to a coalition statement. It was not immediately clear if the coalition was relinquishing its previous demand that Assad step down ahead of such talks.

A U.S. official said the United States and its allies were discussing the rebel announcement, adding it’s too early to tell what the impact will be. Another U.S. official said the U.S. and its allies are increasingly concerned by infighting between the FSA and al-Qaida militants in northern and eastern Syria.

Both spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss Kerry’s meetings. The opposition has long been hobbled by divisions between those in exile and the disparate rebel groups fighting Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war, which has killed over 100,000 since March 2011.

The insurgency has increasingly drawn jihadis from all over the world, further adding to the West’s reluctance to get militarily involved in the Syrian conflict or send advanced weapons to the rebels. There is growing concern among moderates that the dominant role the extremists are playing is discrediting the rebellion.

Among the signatories of Wednesday’s statement are the Islamist-leaning Ahrar al-Sham and Liwaa al-Islam brigades, both powerful rebel factions with large followings on the ground, as well as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. Three of them — the Liwaa al-Tawheed, the Liwaa al-Islam, and the Suqour al-Sham — have until now been part of the Free Syrian Army, considered to be the Coalition’s military wing.

Growing rebel infighting may further complicate the work of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors who face enormous challenges on the ground, including maneuvering between rebel- and government-controlled territory.

A team of experts arrived Wednesday in Damascus to continue investigating what officials from the world organization have described as “pending credible allegations” of the use of chemical weapons. The visit of the six-member team, led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, follows a report by the inspectors after a previous trip. The report said the nerve agent sarin was used in an Aug. 21, attack near Damascus.

The U.S. and its allies say Assad’s regime was behind the attack that killed hundreds of people. Damascus and its ally, Moscow, blame the rebels for the attack. The U.N. experts will be investigating three alleged uses of chemical weapons earlier this year and seeking information on three alleged incidents last month.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the mission will discuss with the Syrian government “information that it may possess regarding allegations it reported on the use of chemical weapons” in incidents on Aug. 22, 24 and 25.

He said the inspectors will visit the village of Khan al-Assal near Aleppo to probe a March 19 incident, as well as two other sites. The inspectors identified them in last week’s report as Sheik Maqsood and Saraqueb.

Also Wednesday, activists said Kurdish gunmen captured the village of Hmaid in the northeastern province of Hassakeh after heavy fighting with members of al-Qaida’s Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Nusra Front. It came nearly an hour after Kurdish gunmen took the nearby village of Dardara.

Omar Mushaweh, a spokesman for Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood group which is part of the coalition, blasted the rebel statement and said the infighting is dividing the rebellion at a critical time. “The only one who benefits from these side wars is the regime,” he said.

Associated Press writer Mathew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Advertisements

September 25, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — More than a dozen key Syrian rebel groups said Wednesday that they reject the authority of the Western-backed opposition coalition, as U.N. inspectors returned to the country to continue their probe into chemical weapons attacks.

In a joint statement, 13 rebel groups including a powerful al-Qaida-linked faction but also more mainstream forces slammed the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, saying it no longer represents their interests.

The statement reflects the lack of unity between the political opposition, based in exile, and the disparate rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war, which has killed over 100,000 people so far. It also highlights the growing irrelevance of the Coalition and its military arm headed by Gen. Salim Idris, who heads the Supreme Military Council supported by the West, amid increasing radicalization on the ground in Syria.

The rebel groups’ statement was titled “Communique No. 1,” a term used before in Arab countries following military coups that suggests the creation of a new leadership body. A video released on the Internet showed Abdel-Aziz Salameh, political chief of the Liwaa al-Tawheed brigade that is particularly strong in the city of Aleppo, reading the statement.

Syria’s rebel movements vary greatly in their levels of internal organization, and it was not possible to immediately verify whether the other signatories’ leader or fighters on the ground had approved the statement. But there were no immediate reports that any of them had rejected it.

The signatories called on all military and civilian forces “to unite under a clear Islamic framework based on Shariah law, which should be the sole source of legislation”— an apparent reference to the al-Qaida faction’s aspirations to create an Islamic state in Syria.

It said the rebels do “not recognize” any future government formed outside Syria, insisting that forces fighting on the ground should be represented by “those who suffered and took part in the sacrifices.”

But the rebels themselves are also deeply divided, with many groups blaming jihadis and al-Qaida militants in their ranks for the West’s reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria or give them the advanced weapons they need. There is also growing concern that the dominant role the extremists are playing is discrediting the rebellion.

Yet the jihadis, including members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida offshoot, have been some of the most effective forces on the battlefield, fighting alongside the Western-backed Free Syrian Army to capture military facilities, strategic installations and key neighborhoods in cities such as Aleppo and Homs.

Among the signatories are the Islamist-leaning Ahrar al-Sham and Liwaa al-Islam brigades, both powerful rebel factions with large followings on the ground, as well as the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. Three of them — the Liwaa al-Tawheed, the Liwaa al-Islam, and the Suqour al-Sham — have until now been part of the Free Syrian Army, considered to be the Coalition’s military wing.

Abdelbaset Sieda, a senior member of the Coalition, said the group learnt about the rebel statement from the media, adding that contacts were under way to determine how to deal with it. Growing rebel infighting may further complicate the work of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors who face enormous challenges on the ground, including maneuvering between rebel- and government-controlled territory. A team of experts arrived in Damascus on Wednesday to continue investigating what officials from the world organization have described as “pending credible allegations” of the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.

The visit of the six-member team, led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, follows a report by the inspectors after their previous trip in September, which said nerve agent sarin was used in an Aug. 21, attack near the capital, Damascus.

The U.S. and its allies say Assad’s regime was behind the attack, and Washington said it killed 1,400 people. Syrian activist groups gave significantly lower death tolls, but still in the hundreds. Damascus blames the rebels for the attack, and Russia, a close ally of Assad, said the U.N. report did not provide enough evidence to blame the Syrian government. It has also demanded that U.N. inspectors probe other attacks that allegedly included chemical agents.

The United States and Russia brokered an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons but U.N. diplomats say they are at odds on details of a Security Council resolution spelling out how it should be done and the possible consequences if Syria doesn’t comply.

In a speech at the U.N. on Tuesday, President Barack Obama challenged the Security Council to hold Syria accountable if it fails to live up to its pledges. “If we cannot agree even on this,” Obama said, “then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.”

A statement by the U.N. on Tuesday said the inspectors will use their new visit to gather evidence from the alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19 on the village of Khan al Assal outside the city of Aleppo, which was captured by the rebels in July.

Wednesday’s rebel announcement, carried by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, came almost two weeks after the SNC, the main Western-backed opposition coalition, in Turkey elected Ahmad Saleh Touma as the opposition’s interim prime minister.

Syrian rebels have been deeply divided and clashes between rival groups over the past months left hundreds of people dead, mostly in northern and eastern Syria. Rebels also say they have been demoralized and disenchanted with the West ever since Obama backed away from military strikes against Damascus over the Aug. 21 attack.

Syria’s conflict has taken on increasingly sectarian tones in the past year, pitting predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels against members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

September 24, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — As Syria’s civil war rages into its third year, millions of children in the country are at risk of malnutrition and face severe food shortages, an international aid organization has warned.

Save the Children said four million Syrians — more than half of them children — are unable to produce or buy enough food. Thousands are trapped in battle zones in and around Syria’s major cities, such as Aleppo in the north and in the central city of Homs, cut off from access to all but the bare minimum foodstuffs needed to survive, the U.S.-based group said in a dramatic report released Monday.

Food shortages are compounded by an explosion in prices of basic staples, the group said, adding that one in 20 children in areas around the capital of Damascus is severely malnourished. Ever since the conflict erupted in March 2011, leading aid groups have demanded that the warring sides — Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and the rebels fighting to overthrow his regime — enable access to civilians trapped in the fighting. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions have been uprooted from their homes.

But their calls have consistently met obstacles. “The world has stood and watched as the children of Syria have been shot, shelled and traumatized by the horror of war,” said Roger Hearn, Save the Children’s regional director for the Middle East. “The conflict has already left thousands of children dead, and is now threatening their means of staying alive.”

The United States and Russia brokered an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons but U.N. diplomats say they are at odds on details of a Security Council resolution spelling out how it should be done and the possible consequences if Syria doesn’t comply.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday that U.N. chemical weapons inspectors would return to Syria as soon as Wednesday. In Damascus, however, a government official said the issue of the inspectors’ return to Syria and its timing was “still under discussion.” The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

On their previous trip to the country, the U.N. team led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom complied a report that said nerve agent sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus. The U.S. and its allies say Assad’s regime was behind the attack, which according to Washington killed 1,400 people. Activist groups say the death toll was significantly lower, but still in the hundreds.

Damascus blames the rebels for the attack, and Russia, a close ally of Assad, said the U.N. report does not provide enough evidence to blame the Syrian government. It has also demanded that U.N. inspectors probe other attacks that allegedly included chemical agents.

“We are pleased that our call for U.N. inspectors to return to Syria to investigate other episodes has brought results,” Ryabkov told the Russian parliament Tuesday, according to state news agency RIA Novosti. He did not elaborate.

On Monday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition accused government forces of tightening their months-long siege in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where the August attack took place. “Assad’s forces are starving people to death in those areas,” the coalition claimed. “Famine looms in the horizon as more than two million people remain under siege.”

At the U.N., the head of the organization’s World Food Program demanded Monday that a potential cease-fire agreement include access for aid workers. Ertharin Cousin told The Associated Press that an agreement, which will be discussed at the start of the annual U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, envisions a cessation of hostilities so chemical experts trying to bring Syria’s stockpile under international control can travel across the country, including to many conflict areas where WFP and other humanitarian workers have been unable to bring in desperately needed aid.

WFP is currently feeding 3 million people inside Syria and 1.2 million in neighboring countries. Cousin said the goal is to step up supplies so that 4 million internally displaced people and 1.5 million refugees are getting food by the end of October.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Abu-Abdallah al-Libi, a top commander of al-Qaeda front group The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has been killed on Sunday in Idlib in northwestern Syria, Al Arabiya television reported.

The Free Syrian Army denied responsibility for Libi’s death.

The militant group is posing growing challenges for the armed opposition fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and aspire to build a democratic civilian system in the country.

This week the extremist group took control of the Syrian town of Aziz, on the border with Turkey.

Syrian Youth activists had launched an online campaign entitled “ISIS doesn’t represent me.”

“I hope Azaz turns into ISIS’ burial ground,” said one activist posting on Twitter, according to AFP.

“They failed against the Americans in Afghanistan, and against the Iranians in Iraq. Now they are here to bully the Syrians, who are fighting a criminal regime,” said another.

Imposition

An online activist said he feared ISIS would try to impose Islamic law in Azaz.

“Sharia law would only be imposed to allow the killing of people, and we don’t want that,” he said.

Another activist echoed a common claim that ISIS is working hand in glove with Assad’s regime, and was mirroring its methods by “attacking field hospitals, detaining doctors and killing activists.”

Activists said the battle for Azaz began when jihadists broke into a field hospital, searching for a German doctor.

Another version of Wednesday’s events says the fighting broke out when a Northern Storm rebel stepped in to defend a German journalist from being kidnapped by ISIS.

The FSA regained control of the town after heavy clashes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Azaz was calm by Thursday, Al Arabiya television reported.

Source: al-Arabiya.

Link: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/09/22/-Leader-of-al-Qaeda-in-Iraq-and-Syria-has-been-killed.html.

Reuters

Saturday, Sep 21, 2013

BEIRUT – Hundreds of rebels have pledged allegiance to al Qaeda-affiliated forces in northern and eastern Syria, activists and Islamist sources said on Friday, strengthening the group’s control in the region.

Not only individual fighters, but entire units have joined the small but powerful al Qaeda-linked groups – the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – in recent days, according to the sources inside Syria.

“This is a sign the radical groups are still growing in power. This region could fall to the jihadists,” said an activist in the eastern town of Raqqa, who asked not to be identified. “We may see this become a trend.”

Clashes have been intensifying between Nusra or ISIL and the less effective but more moderate forces that make up the majority of opposition fighters, especially in opposition-held territory along Syria’s northern and eastern borders.

At least two entire rebel brigades are said to have joined the Nusra Front in the opposition-held province of Raqqa, which borders Turkey. One of the groups, the Raqqa Revolutionaries, has about 750 fighters in total, according to a source close to Islamist forces who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another group, the God’s Victory Brigade, said in a statement on Facebook that all of its leaders and fighters had pledged loyalty to Nusra Front.

“God’s Victory Brigade, which is comprise of 15 battalions, had pledged its allegiance to the Nusra Front, giving complete submission (to it) in times of hardship and of ease,” it said.

A video uploaded by activists from Raqqa on Friday showed a massive convoy of fighters on cars and trucks with artillery and machine guns as they waved black flags. The video’s title said it showed a newly unified force of Nusra fighters and other rebel battalions who had recently pledged loyalty.

Western forces have been wary of giving further support or weapons to opposition forces who are not only plagued by internal divisions, but the rising influence of al Qaeda groups.

Sporadic clashes between harder-line Islamists and more moderate rebels are increasingly frequent and activists fear that is weakening the two-and-a-half-year revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. The uprising began as peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule but has degenerated into a war that has killed more than 100,000.

While some tensions stem from contrasting ideological outlooks, most rebel-on-rebel fighting is more about control of territory and the spoils of war.

Some activists said the new Islamist loyalty pledges were timed to combat increasing hostility from rival rebel groups, including the Supreme Military Council, the armed wing of the opposition’s Western-backed umbrella leadership abroad.

Many Syrian rebels are attracted to radical units because they are generally more effective than the moderate forces that have Western backing but receive only halting military aid.

Islamists have steady, private sources of funding and incorporate experienced militants, many of them from abroad, who have fought US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Source: AsiaOne.

Link: http://news.asiaone.com/news/world/hundreds-syria-rebels-pledge-loyalty-qaeda-groups.

September 21, 2013

BEIRUT (AP) — Government troops backed by allied militiamen have stormed a predominantly Sunni village in central Syria killing at least 15 people, while opposition forces began an offensive near Aleppo to try to cut the army’s supply route to the northern city, activists said Saturday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on the village of Sheik Hadid occurred late Friday and that the dead included two women and a child. It said the rest were men but did not know if they included rebel fighters.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 26 people were killed in Sheik Hadid, including some who were killed with knives. Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said at least two of the dead were stabbed to death.

The discrepancy in numbers could not be immediately reconciled. The assault came shortly after rebels captured Jalma, another village close to Sheik Hadid in Hama province, killing five soldiers. The Observatory said fighting raged Saturday in Sheik Hadid and nearby areas.

The civil war, which has left more than 100,000 dead, has taken increasingly sectarian overtones. Most of the rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad belong to the majority Sunni sect while his regime is dominated by members of his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Observatory also reported clashes between fighters of two hard-line rebel organizations, al-Qaida’s Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Nusra Front, against Kurdish gunmen in the northern province of Raqqa. The group says 17 hard-liners and three Kurdish gunmen have been killed in the fighting since Friday.

Clashes between Islamic militants and Kurdish gunmen over the past months in northern Syria have left hundreds dead. Also in northern Syria, the Observatory said the rebels launched a wide offensive south of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, in an attempt to cut supplies to government forces in the contested metropolis.

The Observatory said rebels captured six villages south of Aleppo amid heavy fighting. It had on word on casualties. Rebels control large parts of northern Syria and some neighborhoods of Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital.

Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition group rejected an offer by Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, to help in holding a national dialogue to end the Arab country’s crisis. The Syrian National Coalition’s statement came two days after Rouhani wrote in the Washington Post that Tehran was ready to facilitate talks between Assad’s government and the opposition.

Iran has been one of Assad’s strongest backers and is believed to have sent the Syrian government weapons and billions of dollars since the crisis began in March 2011. Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah group has fought alongside Assad’s forces.

“The Iranian statement is ridiculous after all the blood that Iran participated in shedding … through its political, economic and military support to Assad,” said the SNC statement. “It is better if the Iranian leadership withdraws its military experts and fanatic fighters from Syria before coming with initiatives for the concerned parties. It (Iran) is part of the problem,” the statement said.

October 12, 2013

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s Western-backed prime minister on Friday said his brief abduction by gunmen this week was an attempted coup by his Islamist political rivals, using militias which he warned are trying to “terrorize” the government and turn the North African nation into another Afghanistan or Somalia.

In a sign of the turmoil, a car bomb detonated outside a building housing the Swedish and Finnish consulates in the eastern city of Benghazi, where militias are particularly prominent. No one was hurt, but the blast damaged the building’s facade. The city, Libya’s second-largest, has seen frequent violence, including killings of security officials and a string of attacks on foreign missions that have driven most of diplomats out of the city.

With his nationally televised address, embattled Prime Minister Ali Zidan appeared to be trying to leverage public shock over his abduction a day earlier into momentum against his political opponents and against the multiple armed groups stirring chaos since the 2011 toppling of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Militias, many including Islamic extremists, carry out daily violence nationwide and have defied attempts by the weak central authorities to rein them in.

Zidan also gave his first account of the events Thursday, when militiamen broke into the luxury Tripoli hotel where he lived before daybreak and took him away, holding him in a basement prison with criminals for hours until he was freed.

“This is a coup,” he said, speaking alongside members of his government. “There are political rivals behind this … a political group that plots to topple the government.” He appeared to referring to Islamist blocs in parliament that have sought to remove him. “There is a force that wants to slaughter the state before it is established.”

Zidan has been struggling with political opponents and militias since he was named a year ago by parliament to lead. The tensions were enflamed by last Saturday’s raid by U.S. special forces that snatched a Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi off the streets of the capital and whisked him off to custody in a U.S. warship.

The raid angered many militiamen, who accuse Zidan — who has cultivated close security cooperation with the United States — of collaborating in the abduction of a Libyan citizen. Zidan’s government has denied any prior knowledge of the operation, but the raid appears to have prompted his abduction.

Several dozen of members of the hard-line Ansar al-Shariah group marched Friday evening between two main Tripoli squares, denouncing the raid and the prime minister. “Zidan, you coward, you are an American agent,” they chanted, waving black banners. The al-Qaida inspired group is believed to be involved in Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

Along with other militias, Ansar al-Shariah held a larger protest, backed by pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, in Benghazi. In Tripoli, al-Libi’s family attended a separate rally by about 50 Islamists. His wife told The Associated Press, “The Americans “are the terrorists.”

“For six days I have no idea if he (al-Libi) is alive or dead, sick or well,” she said, identifying herself as Um Abdullah and speaking from behind a black veil over her face. “I want to talk to him because even if they say he is fine, I don’t believe the Americans.”

Al-Libi whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, is accused by the U.S. in connection with the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. At the same time, Prime Minister Zidan faces criticism from many Libyans who hate militias and say he has proven impotent to stop them.

“Zidan shows up as a helpless guy who doesn’t have confidence,” said young businessman Hazem al-Tamami, watching the prime minister’s speech at a cafe. Referring to the militias, he added, “If you ask me, I will bring an Apache and bomb them all.”

Militias originated in the “revolutionary” brigades that fought Gadhafi’s forces. Since his ouster, they have refused to disarm and have mushroomed in size and power. Many have been enlisted by the state to serve as security forces, since the army and police are weak, underequipped and under-paid. But they often continue to act as armed vigilante factions with their own interests, and some follow radical al-Qaida-style ideologies or are believed to have links to the terror organization.

Touting themselves as “revolutionaries,” some have long demanded Zidan’s removal for accepting Gadhafi-era officials in government posts. Zidan himself served as diplomat under Gadhafi before defecting to the opposition decades ago. Militias have in the past besieged government buildings and carried out kidnappings — including one last month of the defense minister’s son, apparently to pressure him against trying to rein in the groups. On Friday, the military held memorial for killings of 16 Libyan soldiers in a checkpoint near Tripoli by suspected militants days ago.

In his speech, Zidan warned that “there are those who want to take Libya into the unknown. They want to turn Libya into Afghanistan or Somalia.” He said armed groups use violence to press individual demands and block the establishment of the police and military. “We want a nation of institutions, with an army and police,” he said. “But there are those who want to terrorize the state and the courts and the institutions, and this we refuse.”

He vowed that those involved in his abduction would be punished. He said the attackers looted everything in his room, from cellphones and documents to even his underwear. Zidan said his captors told him they belonged to the Libyan Revolutionaries Operation Room, an umbrella group for various militias, including Islamic hard-liners. The agency was created by Nouri Abu Sahmein, the head of the parliament — or National Congress — as a parallel security force for the capital. That has raised questions on whether they acted on orders from Abu Sahmein, who belongs to an Islamist faction.

Zidan said his captors told him they were acting on orders of their leaders. But he did not specify Abu Sahmein, who visited him while being held, and thanked him for his help in ensuring his freedom.

Earlier, the Operation Room in its official website accused Zidan’s government of “collaboration” in the U.S. raid. Another militia group called the Anti-Crime Department was also involved in the abduction. Its spokesman, Abdel-Hakim al-Balazi, said that the Operation Room members brought Zidan to one of their buildings, claiming they had a warrant for his arrest.

Al-Balazi questioned why parliament chief Abu Sahmein didn’t immediately free Zidan when he visited him in the cell. “I am personally surprised. How come you are the president and you see your prime minister held in a prison and you just leave,” he said.

Keath reported from Cairo.

October 10, 2013

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan was snatched by gunmen before dawn Thursday from a Tripoli hotel where he resides, the government said. The abduction appeared to be in retaliation for the U.S. special forces raid over the weekend that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect from the streets of the capital.

Zidan’s abduction reflected the weakness of Libya’s government, which is virtually held hostage by powerful militias, many of which are made up of Islamic militants. Militants were angered by the U.S. capture of the suspected militant, known as Abu Anas al-Libi, and accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid.

In a sign of Libya’s chaos, Zidan’s seizure was depicted by various sources as either an “arrest” or an abduction. That is because the militias are interwoven in Libya’s fragmented power structure. With the police and army in disarray, many are enlisted to serve in state security agencies, though their loyalty is more to their own commanders than to government officials and they have often intimidated or threatened officials. The militias are rooted in the brigades that fought in the uprising that toppled autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and are often referred to as “revolutionaries.”

A statement on the government’s official website said Zidan was taken at dawn to an “unknown location for unknown reasons” by a group believed to be “revolutionaries” from a security agency known as the Anti-Crime Committee. The Cabinet held an emergency meeting Thursday morning, headed by Zidan’s deputy, Abdel-Salam al-Qadi.

Abdel-Moneim al-Hour, an official with the Anti-Crime Committee, told The Associated Press that Zidan had been arrested on accusations of harming state security and corruption. The public prosecutor’s office said it had issued no warrant for Zidan’s arrest.

A government official said gunmen broke into the luxury hotel in downtown Tripoli where Zidan lives and abducted him and two of his guards. The two guards were beaten but later released. The official spoke to AP on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry in Brunei, said, “We are looking into these reports and we are in close touch with senior US and Libyan officials on the ground.”

The snatching of Zidan came hours after he met with the family of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, the al-Qaida suspect seized by the Americans, now being held in a U.S. warship.

Michael reported from Cairo.

October 03, 2013

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Thursday evacuated all of its diplomats and their families from Libya, the day after a mob attack on the Russian Embassy, and issued a warning to its citizens against visiting the country.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said none of the embassy staff was hurt in Wednesday’s attack, which came in response to the death of a Libyan air force officer, who was allegedly killed by a Russian woman.

An armed mob broke into the embassy compound in the Libyan capital Tripoli, climbing over walls, breaking down a metal gate and shooting in the air. One of the attackers was killed by the gunfire, and four more were wounded, Libyan officials said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in Thursday’s statement that Moscow decided to evacuate the embassy after Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz visited its grounds and told the Russian ambassador that Libya was unable to protect the personnel.

Lukashevich added that all the embassy workers and their families safely crossed the border into Tunisia Thursday. He said that the Libyan authorities had promised to protect Russian assets and try to quickly restore conditions for the safe operations of the embassy.

Several senior diplomats will stay in Tunisia to maintain contacts with Libya, while the rest of the embassy workers will be flown to Moscow Friday, Lukashevich said. He added that the Foreign Ministry recommends Russian citizens should refrain from visiting Libya.

Wednesday’s violence briefly raised fears of a repeat of last year’s deadly attack on a U.S. compound in the eastern city of Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. In that instance, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack, militants fired mortars at the consulate, surrounded it and set it on fire.

A Libyan official said Wednesday’s attackers took down the Russian flag that was hanging from the balcony of one of the buildings. But they did not enter the embassy buildings, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.