Share story

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya’s fragile interim government condemned the United States on Sunday for what it called the “kidnapping of a Libyan citizen” from the capital, Tripoli, a day earlier, and Libyan lawmakers threatened to remove the prime minister if the government was involved.

The capture of the Libyan, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Liby and was indicted on a charge of planning al-Qaida’s 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, was so fast and left so few clues behind that Libyans were only slowly coming to terms with what had occurred. The government denied an American assertion that it had played a role in the operation amid anger that the nation’s sovereignty had been violated.

But as a measure of just how tired the public is of the chaos that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, some Libyans angry at the raid expressed exasperation at their government’s failures to bring any measure of security to its people.

“There is hardly very much that is going on, except that every three or four days there is a new assassination,” said Mohammed Mufti, a Western-educated physician and liberal intellectual in Benghazi. “This government seems to be suffering terminal inertia.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

The reaction to the capture of Abu Anas underscored the stakes for the U.S. as it gave up on waiting for the Libyan government to grow strong enough to challenge the militias that wield power, and detain fugitives living with impunity on Libyan soil.

For months, a swelling team of federal investigators, intelligence agents and Marines waited behind the barbed wire and gun turrets of the fortified compound around the U.S. Embassy here, aware of suspected terrorists at large in the streets — including suspects in the killing last year of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi — and increasingly frustrated at the inability of the weak Libyan government to move against them.

Now, with the Abu Anas raid, the Obama administration has signaled a limit to its patience. Two years after the United States backed the NATO intervention that removed Gadhafi, Washington has demonstrated a new willingness to pursue its targets directly, an action that has now prompted some of those suspected in Stevens’ death to go into hiding, people here said.

“Of course people are worried about it in Benghazi,” said Mohammed Abu Sidra, a Benghazi Islamist leader and member of Parliament.

Sheikh Abu Sidra, a member of Parliament from Benghazi, said lawmakers would summon the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, and other top officials to testify about whether they had prior knowledge of the raid, noting that Zeidan had recently visited the U.S.

“The future of the government and the GNC is at stake,” he said, referring to the General National Congress, or Parliament. “The people’s reaction will be very bad toward America. They will not accept the violation of Libya’s sovereignty.”

The government denied any knowledge of what it called the “kidnapping of a Libyan citizen,” contradicting statements by U.S. officials the previous day.

“As soon as it heard the reports, the Libyan government contacted the United States authorities to demand an explanation” for “the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen,” the government said in a statement.

But that disclaimer was unlikely to convince many, said Saleh Meeto, a liberal member of Parliament.

“It is trouble for the government,” he said. “They are trying to remove themselves from being involved.” All Libyans would be opposed to interference by a foreign power, he said.

A senior U.S. official said the operation to capture Abu Anas had been in the works for weeks and that it “involved a great deal of planning.” The official added, “The window of opportunity opened recently, and we took it.”

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.