Heavy clashes broke out in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Monday, leaving at least 10 people dead and shutting the airport during what the government said was an attempt to spring militants from a nearby prison, Reuters reported.
The attack triggered the heaviest fighting in Tripoli for months, undercutting claims by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) to have largely stabilized the city. It also undermines GNA efforts to persuade diplomatic missions to return.
Automatic gunfire and artillery rounds could be heard from the city center early in the day and Mitiga airport, which operates all civilian air traffic to and from the capital, said flights had been suspended until further notice.
The fighting pitted the Special Deterrence Force (Rada), one of Tripoli’s most powerful groups, against a rival faction based in the Tajoura neighborhood.
Rada acts as an anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit and controls Mitiga airport and a large prison next to it. It is aligned with the GNA and is occasionally targeted by rivals whose members it has arrested.
Rada said the airport had been attacked by a group headed by “Bashir ‘the Cow’” and others it had been seeking following their escape from a detention facility controlled by Rada elsewhere in Tripoli.
The GNA said the attack had “endangered the lives of passengers, affected aviation safety and terrorized residents”.
“This assault was aimed at freeing terrorists from Daesh (Islamic State) and al Qaeda and other organizations,” it said in a statement. The attack had been repelled, and an operation to secure the area was ongoing, it said. The fighting had largely died down by the afternoon.
The bodies of at least 10 combatants had been brought to a nearby hospital, a health ministry official said. At least 13 people had been wounded, three of them seriously, he said.