Libya PM says abducted aide's whereabouts unknown

TRIPOLI Mon Apr 8, 2013 11:06am EDT

Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan (C) speaks during a joint news conference at the headquarters of the Prime Minister's Office in Tripoli March 31, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan (C) speaks during a joint news conference at the headquarters of the Prime Minister's Office in Tripoli March 31, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ismail Zitouny

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TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the whereabouts of his top aide were still unknown more than a week after he was grabbed from his car on the outskirts of Tripoli by unknown assailants.

Mohammed al-Ghatous, in his 50s, was seized after passing a checkpoint into the eastern Tripoli suburb of Tajoura, while returning from the coastal city of Misrata on the evening of Sunday, March 31.

Ghatous, one of Zeidan's top aides, had last spoken to his family by mobile phone from his car before he was taken.

"His whereabouts are still unknown," Zeidan told a news conference on Monday. "His family are worried about him and we hope he will be released safe and sound soon."

Since the end of the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's new rulers have struggled to control a myriad of armed groups who refuse to lay down their weapons and often take the law into their own hands.

Tensions have been rising between the government and militias in the last few weeks, after the launch of a campaign aimed at dislodging armed groups from public buildings they occupy in Tripoli.

"We believe this comes after the government announced plans of the crackdown," Zeidan said.

On the same day that Ghatous was seized, an armed group controlling a Tripoli prison stormed the justice ministry, an attack the justice minister said took place after the government ordered the group to hand over the jail to the authorities.

Last month, five British nationals who were part of an aid convoy passing through Libya on the way to Gaza were briefly kidnapped by an armed group, and one was sexually assaulted in the eastern city of Benghazi, security officials said.

(Reporting by Ali Shuaib; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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