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Sunday 21 September 2014

Islamist fighters seize control of Libyan airport

Hassan Morajea


Published 25/08/2014 | 02:30

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A damaged aircraft is seen after shelling at Tripoli International Airport yesterday. Photo: Reuters
A general view is seen of the passenger terminal of Tripoli international airport
A general view is seen of the passenger terminal of Tripoli international airport
Libya Shield Force members are seen near a building on fire, which witnesses say was hit by a rocket, after clashes between rival militias in the Sarraj district of Tripoli August 23, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Libya Shield Force members are seen near a building on fire, which witnesses say was hit by a rocket, after clashes between rival militias in the Sarraj district of Tripoli August 23, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Islamist militias seized Libya's international airport yesterday, amid chaotic scenes that marked a major victory in their increasingly violent struggle to take political and military control of the country.

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Armed factions fought their way in after waging a month-long battle against a rival militia from the Libyan town of Zintan that has transformed the capital Tripoli into a war zone.

"We took control of the airport yesterday, and today we have forced Zintan from their two remaining bases. The bases are now under our control," said Abubaker al-Huta, a member of the Libya Shield, one of the most powerful Islamist groups.

The capital has in recent months become the battleground of a brutal contest for power between myriad armed factions from rival cities and tribes, but which can be broadly divided between Islamists and those of more secular and nationalist bent.

Libya's new parliament, elected in June, condemned the move, declaring that the Islamist fighters who took the airport, most of whom are from the coastal city of Misrata, are "terrorists".

But, despite announcing that it would mobilise forces against them, Libya's government has become increasingly ineffective and powerless in recent months.

The capital has already slipped from government control, with parliament forced to relocate to the eastern city of Tobruk, for its own safety.

In what appeared to be the beginning of a political coup, the General National Congress, an Islamist-dominated body that was disbanded after like-minded politicians failed to win a majority of seats at the last election, announced yesterday that it was going to "resume operations".

Its members, some of whom are also fighters in Ansar al-Sharia and Fajr Libya, the two main Islamist armed groups, were due to meet in Tripoli to discuss the running of the country. The result is two concurrent governing bodies in Libya, neither of which have power to control the country.

The elected parliament - the House of Representatives - lacks a functioning national army and instead relies on militias to maintain public security.

But while these forces receive state salaries and wear uniforms, they report in practice to their own independent commanders and towns.

Adding to the chaos, unidentified war planes bombed Islamist targets in Tripoli, the latest in a series of air strikes which have gone unclaimed. The attacks hit the military bases of Islamist militias in the capital, and appeared designed to slow their advance on Tripoli airport.

The Libyan air force denied it was behind the attacks, in part because it didn't have the capabilities or technology to carry out such guided attacks.

This has raised suspicions in Libya that foreign countries, including European nations, may have been involved in the strikes - although Italy, Algeria and other countries have denied being behind them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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