Dueling Libyan Militia Forces Take Control Of Tripoli International Airport
Tripoli’s international airport was forced to cancel all inbound and outbound flights on Monday after rival Libyan militia forces entered the airports runways with armed pickup trucks which they used to surround planes.
The interim government has very little authority in the country at the moment which allowed the al-Awfea Brigade force to occupy the airport and demand the release of their leader who is being held by Tripoli’s security forces.
Libya is only weeks away from a planned election and authorities in the country have struggled to maintain authority over a fractured army that was uprooted after last year’s war ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Nobody was harmed in Monday’s airport take over and passengers already aboard planes were allowed to exit and leave the airport. Other flights including military flights were simply diverted to other airports.
One Italian passenger told Reuters that the situation was “chaotic” while noting:
“There were about 200 of them who came into the airport, they were armed. We were waiting to board our flight and we could hear noises, people shouting.”
When a second militia from the mountain town of Zintan arrived at the airport clashes broke out and unfire could be heard as men entered the airport carrying rocket-propelled grenades.
Government officials in the meantime are not answering calls or publicly commenting on the Tripoli international airport situation.
According to a member of the Awfea Brigade the group is simply protesting the capture of Colonel Abu Oegeila al-Hebshi:
“We are protesting his kidnapping by coming to this airport. We have one tank outside the airport and our cars are surrounding the airplanes so they don’t fly.”