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Libyan kidnappers of Tunisian diplomat demand prisoner exchange

Group responsible for kidnapping Tunisian diplomat Al-Aroussi Kontassi are demanding release of relatives captured in in May 2011
Kidnappers in Libya have demand the release of prisoners held over alleged al-Qaeda related offences (AFP)

The kidnappers of a Tunisian diplomat snatched from a central square in Libya's capital on Thursday have demanded the release of Libyans jailed in Tunisia on terrorism charges for his return, according to a Tunisian official.

The diplomat, Al-Aroussi Kontassi, was abducted by the relatives of "Libyan terrorists", according to Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi. Speaking on Express FM radio, the minister said that they are related to the perpetrators of a shooting in May 2011 which resulted in the deaths of two army officers. 

"It seems they belong to the same family as Libyan terrorists detained in Tunisia in connection with the Rouhia terrorist operation who were sentenced to long jail terms," Hamdi said.

It is the second time in a month that a Tunisian diplomat has been kidnapped in Tripoli. An employee of the same embassy was seized on 21 March. His fate remains unknown.

A number of foreign diplomats have been kidnapped by militia groups in recent months to secure the release of Libyans jailed in other countries. The weak interim government has been unable to disarm the militia groups that helped topple Gaddafi and they continue to wield significant influence in fragile political conditions.

Diplomats a target

The Jordanian ambassador, also kidnapped this week, was taken off a Tripoli street by masked gunmen who are demanding the release of a Libyan imprisoned in Jordan. Mohamed Dersi was jailed for life in 2007 for planning a terrorist attack on the main airport in Jordan.

Last month, five Egyptian Embassy staff were abducted in Tripoli by a militia group whose leader was being held in a Cairo prison. Egypt freed Libyan military commander Shabaan Hadiya shortly after the diplomats were released.

Analysts say even pro-government militias are unwilling to protect foreign diplomats from potential kidnap.

“Pro-government militias will not protect foreign embassies or their staff because they want the government to appear weak in order to extort further political and financial gains from them,” Jason Pack, researcher of Middle East history at Cambridge University and president of Libyaanalysis.com, told MEE.

Lawlessness has given rise to favourable conditions for potential kidnapers, and with militias successfully using foreign diplomats to achieve the release of prisoners, these incidents are likely to keep happening.

“Unless the Libyan government and international community take responsibility for the dire state of instability, it is likely this cycle of kidnappings will continue for months, or even years, to come,” Mohamed Eljarh, Libyan analyst for Foreign Policy, told Middle East Eye.