Libya's attorney general said armed gunmen dragged him from his car in broad daylight in Tripoli, threatening to kill him if he doesn't let one of their friends out of jail.
The blatant attack on one of the highest legal authorities in Libya highlights the tense security situation that has persisted in the country's capital since Libyan revolutionaries toppled Moammar Gadhafi's regime in August.
The National Transitional Council, which lead the uprising and took power after Gadhafi's fall, has made limited progress in extending its rule and disarming the armed groups that fought Gadhafi's forces during Libya's eight-month civil war, which ended with Gadhafi's capture and killing in late October.
"Tripoli is not safe," Attorney General Abdul-Aziz al-Hassady told The Associated Press late Tuesday, just hours after the attack by armed men.
Al-Hassady said he was leaving work when a pickup truck with a mounted machine gun on the back blocked his way, at which point he noticed about 300 armed men in the area around the high court.
Gunmen jumped out of the pickup, dragged him from his car and demanded he release one of their friends who had been arrested on suspicion of murder, he said. Al-Hassady said he escaped after snatching a gun from one of the attackers and pointing it at another's head until he was able to get into a car and get away.
He said he intended to quit his job, though he had not officially informed the NTC of his resignation.
Scores of armed groups still operate unrestrained in Tripoli, al-Hassady added, making it harder for the new government to establish rule of law. Most police stations remain closed and many officers complain that the presence of armed militias makes it impossible for them to do their jobs.
In an incident earlier this week, police arrested a member of an armed brigade from the city of Misrata. His colleagues responded by storming the police station, letting their friend out and briefly held captive four police officers.
Many of the militias take their own prisoners and refuse to hand them over to the authorities, worrying that other armed groups would threaten police or prison guards to get them released, al-Hassady said.
"That is why some armed groups don't trust us anymore, and they prefer to keep the prisoners," he said.
The Tripoli city council on Tuesday gave the militias a deadline, saying armed residents must hand in their guns to the authorities before the end of the year. It remains unclear how authorities would coax or punish those who refuse.
So far, the NTC has taken a cautious approach to disarming the fighters who brought down Gadhafi.
Last month, interim-Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib said he could not disarm fighters until he has prepared alternatives, including jobs and training. NTC head Mustafa Abdul-Jalil seemed to affirm the slower approach last week, noting that 75 percent of those carrying weapons are unemployed.
Abdul-Jalil promised Libya's new leadership would provide them with jobs and support.