* Worry about precedent for Jordan as US ally against Qaeda
* Jordan: release brokered with Libyan gov't, not kidnappers
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, May 13 Kidnappers freed Jordan's
ambassador to Libya and he said on his arrival home on Tuesday
that in exchange his government had sent back to Tripoli a
Libyan Islamist militant who had been serving a life sentence
for a bombing plot.
Jordan's foreign minister said the envoy's release was
arranged in contacts with Libyan authorities, not with the
kidnappers. But some Jordanian officials voiced concern at the
precedent the handover of the militant could set for Amman, an
important U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda.
A Libyan foreign ministry spokesman told al-Nabaa television
channel that militant Mohammed Dersi was back in Libya. Asked
repeatedly whether Dersi was in prison or free, he said only:
"Dersi is in Libya and he is fine."
Jordanian Ambassador Fawaz al-Itan was kidnapped last month
by Libyan gunmen who demanded an Islamist militant be freed from
a Jordanian jail in exchange for the diplomat's release.
Fawaz al-Itan told well-wishers including Jordan's prime
minister on arrival at Amman airport that he had been swapped
for Dersi, who he said had been removed from a maximum-security
Amman prison and flown to Libya.
"The swap was concluded in a very civilised way. I shook
Dersi's hand and welcomed his release and arrival in Libya,"
said Itan, adding that he was treated well by his captors.
Dersi and several other Qaeda suspects were jailed for life
in 2007 for plotting to blow up Amman airport.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh denied any swap had
been negotiated with the kidnappers, saying Itan's release had
was part of a legal arrangement struck with Libyan authorities.
"There was no exchange or swap or deal," he told reporters.
Judicial sources said Amman had been quietly working out a
face-saving deal that initially aimed to return Dersi to Libya
to serve the remainder of his sentence at home.
But the kidnappers insisted on Dersi's immediate release,
leaving Jordanian authorities with little alternative, according
to the sources. "Yes we saved the life of Itan but the political
cost of succumbing to the demands of terrorists in future might
be higher," said a Jordanian official who requested anonymity.
Analysts said that agreeing to the kidnappers' demand could
set a risky precedent for the U.S.-aligned Arab kingdom, which
has been at the forefront of covert operations against militant
Islamists in the Middle East.
Some Jordanian officials privately expressed worry that the
release of a jailed al Qaeda militant would raise the danger to
Jordanian targets abroad by emboldening other militants.
The kingdom has some high-profile radical Islamists in its
jails, including cleric Abu Qatada who was deported from
Britain, and Mohammad Maqdisi, a fundamentalist theorist.
Kidnappings have become commonplace in widely lawless Libya,
with foreign diplomats often the targets used to press for the
release of Libyan militants jailed overseas.
(Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing in Tripoli, Editing by