Libyan official released day after abduction

Nov 18, 2013, 8:22 AM EST
This image made from video shows a protester holding up spent ammunition in Tripoli, Libya after militiamen attacked peaceful protesters demanding the disbanding of the country's rampant armed groups on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, killing tens of people as they opened fire on the march with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
(AP Photo via AP video)

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's deputy intelligence chief was released on Monday, a day after he was abducted by gunmen as he was leaving the airport in the capital, Tripoli, a security official said.

The abduction followed weekend clashes by rival militias that killed nearly 50 people in the city, leaving residents seething with anger over the violence.

The fighting broke out on Friday when thousands of protesters marched on a Tripoli neighborhood controlled by a number of powerful Misrata militias, prompting some militiamen to open fire, killing 43 people. A day later, another militia attempted to overrun a military base, resulting in a clash with government forces that left four dead.

It was unclear who had abducted the intelligence deputy, Mustafa Nouh, whose family is originally from Misrata, a former rebel stronghold. A man who left the airport with him but managed to escape abduction said Nouh was snatched by gunmen traveling in three cars.

The security official, who gave no further details on Nouh's release, spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Public anger had been directed at Misrata militias who developed a strong presence in Tripoli following the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The frustration has also prompted a three-day general strike in Tripoli. On Monday, the second day of the strike, the city was quiet and only essential services such as bakeries, gas stations and hospitals were working.

The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, announced it would deploy troops to secure Tripoli and appealed to residents to support and help them.

Libya's militias originated in the "revolutionary" brigades that fought against Gadhafi's forces in 2011. Since his ouster and death, they have refused to disarm and have grown in size and power. Many have been enlisted by the state to serve as security forces, since the army and police remain weak, underequipped and underpaid.

But many continue to act as armed vigilante factions with their own interests, sometimes turning political feuds into armed conflicts.

Too weak to disarm the militias, the military, police and government have tried to co-opt them, paying them to take on security roles such as guarding districts, facilities, and even polling stations during elections. But the policy has backfired, empowering the militias without controlling them.