On December 17, 2017, Mohamed Eshtewi, the mayor of Misrata, was kidnapped and killed on his way home from the Misrata airport after returning from an official trip to Istanbul. In the incident, his brother Ahmed, who was in the car with him, was also shot in the head, though he managed to survive and now is in serious but stable condition in the Misrata Central Hospital’s intensive care unit (Libya Herald, December 17).
Eshtewi was a significant political figure in Libya. He had strong ties with Turkey, Qatar and Italy (Hurriyet, December 21; Libya Akhbar, December 21; Repubblica, December 18), three of the most important supporters of the forces backing the Government of the National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Sarraj. Weeks after the assassination and the opening of an investigation into it, the perpetrators have not yet been officially identified. Immediately after the killing, however, some observers alleged that Islamist forces in Misrata may have played a role, as they had significant clashes with the mayor.
In May 2017, Eshtewi was forced to resign temporarily by Islamist Misratan fighters who stormed a building in which the mayor was meeting with the representatives of the al-Bunyan al-Marsoos (the brigades responsible for the defeat of the Islamic State in Sirte) and Sirte Mayor Mukhtar al-Madani (Libya Herald, May 4). While some see this as evidence that Islamist Misratan fighters were behind the assassination, others disagree. A source from Misrata said that Islamist hardliners do not operate like this and suggested that, despite the evident differences between the radical Islamist militias and the mayor, Qaddafi or Haftar supporters, or IS fighters, may instead have been behind the murder (Libya Herald, December 17).
At the end of December, the Libyan press reported that Ismail al-Jamal, the head of the Misrata branch of the General Investigation Services and an alleged supporter of radical Egyptian groups, was accused of the assassition, together with four alleged accomplices. The accusations against them came after their names began circulating on social media (Libya Akhbar, December 31). However, no official arrest warrant was issued, and al-Jamal said publicly that he is available for questioning and that those who posted their names on social media should be interrogated and prosecuted as well (al Motawasat, December 26). The lack of an official arrest warrant being issued has evoked signficiant public criticism. Ultimately, this led to the resignation of the head of the Misrata Security Directorate, Colonel Tareq al-Faqih, a demonstration of how significant the divisions are within Misratan groups (Libya Akhbar, January 3, 2018). Although there has been much speculation about this murder, its true effects are yet to be understood. What is certain, however, is that the murder of Eshtewi represents a significant blow to those seeking a stable settlement for Libya.