MISRATA, Libya — Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is free, hours after he was snatched at gunpoint from a hotel in Tripoli early Thursday in what reports said was a response to a US raid in the Libyan capital last weekend.
Libyan media reported that Zeidan had been released by 11:30 a.m. local time. State TV showed the prime minister arriving at his office in Tripoli, where he was expected to give a news conference.
Hours earlier, at around 4 a.m., some 150 armed gunmen from a coalition of Libyan revolutionaries stormed the Corinthia Hotel where Zeidan was staying and took the prime minister from his room by force, beating him as they restrained his bodyguards, according to eyewitness reports.
A group of former rebels with ties to the Interior Ministry, the Libyan Revolutionary Operations Chamber, claimed to have "arrested" him on the orders of the public prosecutor.
The group's spokesman said the move followed reports that Zeidan's government had allowed United States commandos to capture suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Anas al-Liby from his home in Tripoli on Oct. 6.
Libya's Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani, however, has denied that there was any warrant for Zeidan's arrest.
Officials called on other government-allied rebel groups to free Zeidan by force, said fighter Ali AlGadi. His unit is part of the Libyan Shield, a coalition of militia and rebel groups working for the government.
"We were preparing our weapons to go and release Zeidan when the call came through that they had released him and he was on his way back to his office," AlGadi said.
According to Jamal Bennor, a judge and a leader in the Coalition for the Revolution of the 17th of February, the prime minister is a figure of suspicion following Liby's capture, which critics called a violation of Libyan sovereignty.
"Many have accused Zeidan of having a hand in the US operation," he said. "I believe they wanted a confession and information of who was involved and how."
The prime minister's detention was condemned by both government parties. Bennor said Zeidan was freed "due to the pressure and condemnation from the rest of Libya."
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The Libyan Revolutionary Operations Chamber is one of several former militias that the Interior Ministry pays to provide security, according to sources from several militia groups in Tripoli.
The group's spokesman told Reuters that Zeidan "was arrested under the Libyan penal code," after US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the Libyan government was informed in advance of the operation to capture Abu Anas al-Liby.
Aside from the controversial raid, Bennor said that Zeidan's time in office was already dogged by failure, as rampant corruption prevailed and an already precarious security situation worsened.
"The revolutionaries are refusing to give him a chance to continue in his position as prime minister," Bennor said. "I believe following this incident he will have no choice but to resign."
Islamists in Libya have threatened blowback for the weekend raid in Tripoli by US forces.
"If I saw these people [US troops] coming here I would have killed them quickly," said one Misrata youth, 19-year-old Absalam Bayou, on Monday. "We have commanders here. We have weapons. Why didn’t the Americans approach our men and ask him to be handed over for questioning?"
Zeidan has repeatedly appealed to Western allies for help defeating militants who he accuses of attempting to destabilize Libya's transitional government with attacks on the interior ministry and other state institutions.