Libyan armed groups fight over capital
Fighters from Zintan attack Tripoli, demanding the resignation of parliament and a handover of power.
Tripoli – On Sunday around noon, the city was experiencing an eery calm as people rushed to stock up on food and petrol supplies in anticipation of a fresh round of fighting.
Earlier in the day, militias had stormed Libya’s parliament building and demanded that the assembly drafting the constitution become the country’s new parliament in place of the General National Congress (GNC), following the heaviest fighting seen in the capital since 2011.
Militias from Zintan, where rebel fighters rose to prominence after getting hold of a large number of weapons during the uprising in 2011, launched an offensive against the Islamist-led militias in Tripoli.
The move was a show of support for Colonel Khalifa Haftar, who launched a military operation named “Libya Dignity” against Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi in early May.
“The Libyan people’s support for the operation does not mean they support Haftar,” political analyst Kamal al-Mizoghi told Al Jazeera. “Libyans are looking for someone to guide and save them and it does not matter who that is.”
The two Zintan militias, QaQa and Sawaik, along with other army units from different areas around Tripoli, attacked bases on the outskirts of the capital, including the notorious 27th Brigade located 27km west of Tripoli. The 27th Brigade is thought to be home to an Islamist militia under the command of a man named Buka.
Buka is the head of one of the units of the country’s “Libya Shield”, a large brigade that supports the Islamist trend represented in the GNC. They were bought to Tripoli from Benghazi by the GNC to protect them in anticipation of an attack from Zintan.
VIDEO: The battle for security in Libya
Clashes broke out on Airport Road, as civilians fled the streets and headed home. Convoys of cars mounted with rocket launchers and anti-aircraft weaponry could be seen heading to Tripoli from the eastern outskirts.
Zintan militias attacked a group led by AbdulGani Alkikly, in Absaleem in southwest Tripoli near Airport Road, forcing the airport to close down and locking in those in it.
These militias from Zintan must be stopped. They are only looking for power.
Alkikly called for assistance from other Tripoli militias. Many who responded were units under the Preventative Security Brigade, an anti-drug and alcohol fighting group.
Their head, AbdulRauf Kara, was behind the death of many drug dealers in the past two years, prompting support from some areas in Tripoli for the Zintan and Haftar movement.
Mukhtar Alakhthar, head of a small unit of Zintan fighters currently in control of Tripoli’s airport, said: “The fighting is going well. The men on the ground will not take it easy on the Islamists.”
Civilian infrastructure on Airport Road was hit, and one woman was photographed by a social media user being rushed to a hospital after a rocket hit her apartment.
The fighting continued all night. Justice Minister Salah al-Margani escaped an assassination attempt along with fellow Culture Minister Habib Lameen. Al-Margani later gave a press conference condemning all acts of violence.
Anwar Suwan, a Misrata pro-GNC militia leader, said: “These militias from Zintan must be stopped. They are only looking for power.” Misrata, a city east of Tripoli, is thought to have the only force that can take on Zintan, but they did not join the fighting. The Misrata military council held a meeting after the fighting broke out to discuss what their next move will be.
Later that night, Libyan army spokesman Khalid Furnana called on the GNC to put a hold on all its activities, and asked that the 60-member committee, based in the eastern town of Albaitha and elected in March to draft Libya’s new constitution, act as the country’s new parliament.
At midnight, hospitals announced that a civilian and a fighter had been killed in the fighting, along with 66 injured.
“In Tripoli, there is no real army, it is militias of young men trying to take control of the capital, because if you control the capital, you control Libya,” said al-Mizoghi.