A Tunisian diplomat kidnapped in neighboring Libya pleaded tearfully with his country’s president in an online video to negotiate with a militant group for his release.
Mohammed Bel Sheik, who was reportedly kidnapped a month ago in Tripoli, did not appear to be injured.
Another Tunisian diplomat was abducted in Tripoli last week, shortly after Jordan's ambassador to Libya, Fawaz Itan, was seized. The fate of those two men is unknown.
Kidnappings have surged in Libya since the revolution that ousted Moammar Kadafi in October 2011. Kidnappers usually demand the release of captured militants.
“I have three young children," Bel Sheik says in the five-minute video, in which he is wearing a black shirt and shown against a white wall. “They could kill me any time.”
“This is a legitimate request,” he adds, addressing Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. “I’d love to return to Tunisia.”
The group left a message at the end of the video, dated April 19, that said: “As you imprison ours, we will imprison yours. As you kills ours, we will kill yours."
However, it did not make a clear demand in return for the release of Bel Sheik. Officials from Libya and Tunisia did not immediately comment on the video.
Reuters news agency quoted Essam Baitelmel, a member of the team investigating the abduction of the Jordanian ambassador, as saying the kidnappers wanted the release of Libyan militant Mohamed Dersi, convicted of plotting to bomb Jordan’s main airport.
In January, gunmen briefly held five Egyptian diplomats after the arrest of Libyan militia leader Shabaan Hadia in Egypt. They were released after Egypt freed Hadia.
Commenting on the increasing abductions in Libya, Wayne White, a former official of the State Department's Middle East/South Asia Intelligence Office, said abductions increase when kidnappers manage to free prisoners or get cash. But he noted that extremist groups sometimes kill hostages if they cannot negotiate a deal for them.
Diplomats are an inviting target because government officials, diplomats or not, can be traded, he said.
“In the continued absence of improved security, the only alternative is to follow the example of many other countries and remove diplomats from the country,” he said of Libya.