x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Kidnapped Jordanian ambassador in Libya freed in exchange for jihadist

Ambassador Fawaz Al Itan was handed over to Jordanian authorities in Libya early on Tuesday and has returned to his country.

Fawaz Al Itan, the Jordanian ambassador in Libya, centre, speaking to the press upon his arrival at Marka Military Airport, in Amman, Jordan on May 13, 2014. The ambassador was released by his captors after his abduction in Tripoli last month. Mohammad Hannon/AP Photo
Fawaz Al Itan, the Jordanian ambassador in Libya, centre, speaking to the press upon his arrival at Marka Military Airport, in Amman, Jordan on May 13, 2014. The ambassador was released by his captors after his abduction in Tripoli last month. Mohammad Hannon/AP Photo

AMMAN // Jordan’s ambassador to Libya has been freed in an exchange for a jihadist jailed for plotting bomb attacks.

Ambassador Fawaz Al Itan was on his way home on Tuesday, a month after masked gunmen kidnapped him in mid-April as he was being driven to work in the Libyan capital Tripoli. They shot at his car and wounded his driver.

There was no claim of responsibility for his abduction, but Libyan sources said later that the kidnappers had been demanding the release of a Libyan jihadist jailed in Jordan for more than seven years.

Mohammed Saeed Al Darsi was tried and convicted in 2007 on charges of involvement in planning an attack on Amman’s international airport.

His handover came just days after Libya said it had ratified an extradition agreement with Jordan.

“Last week Darsi was handed over to Libyan authorities in line with the [extradition] agreement so that he will spend the rest of his sentence in the Libyan jails,” said Khaled Al Kalaldah, Jordan’s parliamentary affairs minister.

Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh said on state television that the ambassador was “doing well” and that he was making his way back to his country.

Mr Kalaldah said that Mr Al Itan was handed over to Jordanian authorities in Libya early on Tuesday.

State news agency Petra said the ambassador was expected home in a few hours and that Mr Judeh would hold a news conference to give more details about the efforts leading to his release.

Mr Al Itan’s abduction was the latest in a series of attacks on Libyan leaders and foreign diplomats in the increasingly lawless country, three years after Nato-backed rebels ended Muammar Qaddafi’s four-decade rule.

Diplomats in Tripoli say militias which fought to topple the Qaddafi regime in the 2011 uprising often carry out kidnappings to blackmail other countries into releasing Libyans held abroad.

Tunisian diplomat Al Aroussi Kontassi was also abducted in Libya last month.

Tunis said later the kidnappers of both men are demanding the release of Libyans jailed in Tunisia on terrorism charges.

On Thursday, the government in Tripoli said the justice ministries of both Jordan and Libya had ratified the agreement to extradite prisoners. It did not elaborate, but the move was seen as paving the way for the release of Darsi in exchange for freeing the ambassador.

In the past month, Jordan has called on the Libyan authorities to secure Mr Al Itan’s safe release as prime minister Abdullah Nsur vowed Amman would do “what it takes” to secure his release.

The United Nations Security Council also condemned the kidnapping “in the strongest terms”, urging Libya to “work towards the safe release of the ambassador”.

Libya has seen near-daily attacks targeting security forces, a rebellion that blockaded vital oil terminals for nine months and a growing crisis stemming from the interim parliament’s decision to extend its mandate.

*AFP