Middle East

Armed group attacks Libyan parliament

Government insists it is in control after attack on parliament by forces loyal to a renegade general.

Last updated: 19 May 2014 12:46
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

Libya's government has insisted it is still in control of the worsening security situation, even as an al-Qaeda-inspired group vowed to fight troops loyal to a renegade general behind an attack on the country's parliament.

Gunmen launched an attack on the parliament in the capital Tripoli on Sunday and demanded its suspension and an airport in the Eastern city of Benghazi came under rocket attack early on Monday.

Later on Monday the al-Qaeda-inspired Lions of Monotheism Group said it would fight forces apparently loyal to a renegade Libyan general, Khalifa Hifter, after they attacked parliament and suspended its activities.

The Associated Press news agency reported that Libya's army chief had ordered the deployment of the group, compounding the issue voiced by Hifter of unofficial armed groups being used by the government to enforce laws.

Hifter is a one-time rebel commander who said the US backed his efforts to topple Muammar Gaddafi in the 1990s. He says his group is taking on some of Libya's most hardline groups, and blames the government for not doing more to tackle them.

Hours before the parliamentary suspension, members of an armed group backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire attacked parliament, sending politicians fleeing for their lives as gunmen ransacked the legislature, the Associated Press news agency reported.

MPs were evacuated from the building in southern Tripoli as heavy gunfire erupted after a convoy of armoured vehicles entered the city from the airport road and headed for the GNC.

The attack reportedly killed two people and wounded more than 50.

Witness joins a group of Libyan rebel fighters defending the frontline in Misrata
Early on Monday, the violence escalated as unknown attackers fired rockets at Benina airport in Libya's second-largest city of Benghazi. Authorities had closed the airport on Friday for security reasons.

Libya has been struggling with chaos as its government, parliament and nascent armed forces are unable to impose their authority over brigades of former rebels and militias who helped oust Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy the state.

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it was closing its embassy and consulate in Tripoli and withdrawing all of its diplomatic staff, citing security concerns, the state news agency SPA reported. 

General Mokhtar Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel on behalf of Hifter's group, said it had assigned a 60-member constituents assembly to take over for parliament.

Farnana said Libya's current government would act on as an emergency Cabinet, without elaborating.

Farnana, who is in charge of prisons operated by the military police, said forces loyal to Hifter carried out Sunday's attack on parliament.

He also said the attack on parliament was not a coup, but "fighting by the people's choice".

"We announce to the world that the country can't be a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism," said Farnana, who wore a military uniform and was seated in front of Libya's flag.

Early on Monday morning, Libya's interim government condemned the attack on parliament and largely ignored the declaration by the general's group.

"The government condemns the expression of political opinion through the use of armed force," Salah al-Marghani, the justice minister, said in a statement.

"It calls for an immediate end of the use [of] the military arsenal... and calls on all sides to resort to dialogue and reconciliation."


The attack came after an assault on Friday by Hifter's forces on hard-line religious armed groups in the restive eastern city of Benghazi that authorities said killed 70 people.

On Sunday, gunmen targeted Islamist politicians and officials Hifter blames for allowing "extremists" to hold the country at ransom, his spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi told Libyan television station al-Ahrar.

Officials believe members of the al-Qaaqaa and Sawaaq militias, the largest in the capital, backed Hifter even though they operate under a government mandate. Al-Qaaqaa posted a statement on its official Facebook page saying it attacked parliament with Sawaaq because politicians supported "terrorism".

Parliamentary head Nouri Abu Sahmein earlier told Libyan television station al-Nabaa that parliament would convene on Tuesday.


Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Chinese scientists are designing a particle-smashing collider so massive it could encircle a city.
Critics say the government is going full-steam ahead on economic recovery at the expense of human rights.
Spirits are high in Scotland's 'Whisky Capital of the World' with one distillery thirsty for independence.
President Poroshenko arrives in Washington on Thursday with money and military aid on his mind, analysts say.
Early players in private medicine often focused on volume over quality, turning many Chinese off for-profit care.
join our mailing list