Libyan jets have bombed bases of armed groups in Benghazi as part of a self-declared campaign by a renegade former general to purge the North African country of religious hardline militias.
A Reuters witness and an air force official in Benghazi said two jets bombed a base belonging to the February 17th Brigade, one of the armed groups operating in the eastern city, and an Ansar al-Sharia base in the west of the city.
“Air raids targeted a camp of the February 17 Martyrs Brigades, hitting it with two missiles,” Ahmed al-Jazaoui, a former rebel, also told the AFP news agency.
February 17 is one of the biggest and most powerful militias in Benghazi. It had its origin during the uprising against longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the capital, Tripoli, said that the operation was led by forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar.
There have been no reported casualties so far, she said.
Witnesses also told our correspondent that dark smoke was seen from the location of the attack. Panicked residents also reportedly fled the area.
Haftar launched a campaign last week to rid Libya of what he called “terrorists”. He had earlier accused the government of being weak, and not acting against the religious hardline militias in the country
Gunmen claiming loyalty to him attacked the parliament building in Tripoli two weeks ago to demand a power transfer, triggering the worst clashes in the capital for months.
Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule and three years of unrest have left Libya with few institutions and no real national army to impose state authority on the competing militias and brigades of former rebels who have become power-brokers.
The OPEC oil producer has been in turmoil since the NATO-backed war ousted Gaddafi, with different armed groups, regional and political factions locked in conflict over its future.
Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia, targeted in Wednesday’s air attack, is listed as a “terrorist group” by Washington. The group warned the United States on Tuesday against interfering in the country’s crisis, and accused Washington of backing Haftar.