Kidnapped Jordan envoy freed in swap for jihadist

May 13, 2014 - 10:43:17 am

AMMAN: Jordan's ambassador to Libya has been freed, a month after being kidnapped, and is on his way home Tuesday in an exchange for a jihadist jailed for plotting bomb attacks.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Khaled al-Kalaldah made the announcement in Amman just days after Libya said it had ratified an extradition agreement with Jordan.

Masked gunmen kidnapped the ambassador, Fawaz Aitan, 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.

"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 Kalaldah.

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 homeland.

Kalaldah said that Aitan was handed over to Jordanian authorities in Libya at 0300 GMT.

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

Aitan's abduction was the latest in a series of attacks on Libyan leaders and foreign diplomats in the increasingly lawless North African country, three years after NATO-backed rebels ended autocratic leader Moamer Kadhafi's four-decade rule.


Kidnapping for blackmail

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

Two Tunisians, a diplomat and an embassy colleague, have also been abducted in Libya, and Tunis said their kidnappers 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.

Aitan was abducted at gunpoint in a brazen daylight operation on the streets of Tripoli.

Hooded men on board two civilian cars attacked his convoy as he was heading to work, forcing him out of his vehicle and whisking him away.

His driver suffered two gunshot wounds but his life was not in danger after surgery.

In the past month, Jordan has called on the Libyan authorities to secure Aitan'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".

But after two days, Tunisian diplomat Al-Aroussi Kontassi was abducted in Tripoli -- the second embassy staff seized in the Libyan capital.

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

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)