Last updated: 13 May, 2014

Jordan ambassador kidnapped in Libya last month now free

Jordan’s ambassador to Libya was freed and flown home on Tuesday, a month after being kidnapped, in an exchange for a Libyan jihadist jailed in Jordan for plotting bomb attacks.

A Jordanian minister told AFP that ambassador Fawaz Aitan had been released, and that the jihadist would serve out the rest of his life prison sentence in his homeland under an extradition agreement ratified on Thursday.

But the brother of jihadist Mohammad Saeed al-Darsi told AFP that he was free and with his family following his return to Tripoli.

A plane carrying the freed ambassador arrived at Marka military airport in Amman, and was greeted by relatives and officials led by Prince Faisal bin Hussein, the brother of King Abdullah II.

“They (the kidnappers) treated me in a civilised and humane manner,” Aitan told reporters, looking healthy but tired.

Masked gunmen kidnapped the ambassador in mid-April as he was being driven to work in Tripoli. They shot his car and wounded his driver.

There was no claim of responsibility, but Libyan sources said the abductors had demanded the release of Darsi, a Libyan convicted of terrorism offences in Jordan in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He was found guilty of possessing explosives and plotting to bomb Amman’s international airport.

Aitan said his abductors were relatives of Darsi.

The envoy was handed over to the Jordanian authorities in Libya at 0300 GMT, Jordanian Parliamentary Affairs Minister Khaled al-Kalaldah told AFP.

“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 Libyan jails,” said Kalaldah.

Libya’s foreign ministry confirmed Darsi’s release, but the justice ministry declined to comment on the terms of his handover by Jordan.

– Exchanged jihadist ‘free’ –

Ahmad Darsi told AFP that his brother was “free” to move about as he wished.

“He arrived safely in Tripoli. He is with his own people. He is due to return to Benghazi,” in the east, the brother said.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told an Amman press conference: “We lived a nightmare for four weeks but thank God, the ambassador has returned to his family… and his loved ones”.

He too said that the kidnappers were “related to the Libyan prisoner, Darsi”.

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 Moamer Kadhafi’s four-decade dictatorship.

Diplomats in Tripoli say militias which fought to topple Kadhafi in 2011 often carry out kidnappings to pressure foreign governments into releasing Libyans held abroad.

Two Tunisian embassy staff have also been abducted in Libya, and Tunis has said their kidnappers are demanding the release of Libyans jailed in Tunisia on terrorism charges.

The extradition agreement between Jordan and Libya ratified by the two governments on Thursday was widely seen as a paving the way for the handover of Darsi in exchange for the ambassador’s release.

Aitan was abducted at gunpoint in broad daylight on the streets of Tripoli on April 15.

Hooded men aboard two civilian cars attacked his convoy as he headed 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 had urged Libya to secure Aitan’s release, and premier Abdullah Nsur vowed Amman would do “what it takes”.

The UN Security Council condemned the kidnapping and called on Libya to work for 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.