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Libya condemns U.S. arrest of Benghazi suspect

By Ulf Laessing and Ahmed Elumami

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libya condemned the United States on Wednesday for snatching a man suspected of masterminding the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, describing the arrest as a violation of Libyan sovereignty.

President Barack Obama authorized Sunday's operation in which U.S. special forces captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah in Libya for transfer to the United States.

The action is very sensitive for the weak Libyan government which is under pressure from various militias, Islamists and armed tribesmen who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 but defy state authority in the vast desert country.

In the first official reaction from Tripoli, Justice Minister Saleh al-Marghani said Khatallah should be returned to Libya and tried there.

"We had no prior notification," Marghani told a news conference. "We expect the world to help us with security. We expected the United States to help us, but we did not expect the United States to upset the political scene."

He said Khatallah had been wanted by Libyan authorities for questioning but they had been unable to arrest him due to the security situation.

Diplomats say Libya has done next to nothing to make arrests over the 2012 consulate attack in which four Americans died, as the government has little sway in Libya's second-largest city.

Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Said al Saoud said: "This attack on Libyan sovereignty happened at a time when Benghazi is suffering from many problems." He asked that Khatallah receive a fair trial.

The September 2012 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, since closed, killed four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

A similar U.S. special forces operation, grabbing al Qaeda suspect Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas al-Liby, in Tripoli in October 2013 had drastic consequences for the government.

A militia briefly kidnapped the then prime minister, Ali Zeidan, from his hotel suite, accusing him of having known about the operation.

Al-Liby was later charged in a U.S. federal court in New York in connection with the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, which killed more than 200 people.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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