Libyan Mayor Abducted and Killed by Suspected Islamist Militants

Mohammed Eshtewi, mayor of the Libyan city of Misrata
Al Jazeera English/YouTube

Mohammed Eshtewi, mayor of the Libyan city of Misrata, was abducted from the airport on Sunday by a squad of as-yet-unidentified gunmen. The militants murdered him and dumped his body near a hospital.

According to a Libyan security official quoted by Reuters, Eshtewi was on his way back from a trip to Turkey and had just departed the Misrata airport when the death squad began chasing his car.

“Misrata, almost 200 kilometers east of Tripoli, is the gateway for food and other imports into Libya and the country’s only tax-free zone. It is one of the few places still frequented by foreign business people fearing poor security elsewhere,” Reuters observes, to give some idea of why militants continue to target the city for attacks. A suicide bombing that killed four people in October was claimed by the Islamic State.

The Times of Israel reports that Eshtewi’s body was dumped in the street near a hospital with multiple gunshot wounds. Eshtewi’s brother was with him at the time of his abduction and was wounded in the attack. There are conflicting reports of how many times the mayor was shot; one report cited by the Libya Herald states he was actually killed by a “sharp blow to the head.”

The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, responded to the assassination on Twitter:

The North Africa Post writes that a three-day period of mourning has begun in Misrata for the murdered mayor. Both the local municipal council and other nearby city governments have condemned the attack.

According to the North Africa Post article, both Esthewi’s brother and their driver were injured in the attack. The brother is said to be in stable condition in the hospital. The article offers a theory as to why the mayor might have been killed by Islamist militants:

Pro-Islamist chief of Misrata Military Council, Ibrahim Ben Rajeb, had on several occasions tried to force Eshtewi to resign because of his support for the Libyan Political Agreement and the Presidency Council and his willingness to reach out to the east of the country.

According to some analysts, Eshtewi was constantly trying to reconcile moderate and hardliners in the city, as well as between Misrata and the east of the country.

A senior local official gave the Libya Herald some other theories, suggesting that diehard supporters of slain dictator Moammar Qaddafi or ambitious military commander Khalifa Hafter could have been responsible, and Islamic State operatives are always likely suspects in such atrocities.

Also potentially significant: the U.N.-brokered agreement that gave Libya its struggling Government of National Accord is expiring – technically, it expired yesterday – so various warlords, terrorist gangs, militia groups, and aspiring dictators may feel now is the time to make their bid to control chunks of that devastated and chaotic country.

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