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Angry, armed men

The parliament is packed with many lawmakers who have ties to the militias, which are the main power brokers in Tripoli.

“The political game in Tripoli is a high-stakes game with some level of impunity, which involves militias extracting concessions from the government they work for by taking threatening actions, whether it is occupying the parliament building or kidnapping an official for a few hours or refusing to give up a post they have been guarding since the revolution,” said Mr. Lawrence.

The government’s authority has been further undermined because the militias face no consequences for their actions, including the abduction of Mr. Zeidan.

The government ordered militias from Misrata to leave Tripoli following the attack on the protesters this month, but they got to keep their weapons.

“These men are angry, armed and have not been held accountable for any of the crimes they committed,” said Ms. Salah.

Plans to disarm the militias have faltered because of rampant distrust between the government and some militias who see themselves as guardians of the revolution that ousted Gadhafi.

“Until we have dealt with the underlying issues of distrust at the political level, no one is going to give up their arms and things could get worse,” said Mr. Lawrence.

The fragile security situation is prompting dire predictions of a country headed down a dangerous path.

“Tensions are simmering, and so far the political actors have been able to control things, but this is not sustainable in the long run,” said Claudia Gazzini, a Tripoli-based senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It is not only a security problem, it is a political problem.”

Some analysts contend Libya is on the brink of a civil war.

“The massacre on [Nov. 15] showed that if things continue this way the country will implode,” said Karim Mezran, a Middle East specialist at the Atlantic Council.

“We are only one inch away from a full-fledged civil war,” he added.