Two unidentified airstrikes targeting Islamist militia positions in Libya’s capital killed 15 fighters and wounded 30 on Saturday. A senior militia leader accused Egypt and the United Arab Emirates of being behind the attacks on their posts.
The mysterious airstrikes Saturday were the second this week to target Islamist militia posts in the capital. They have fueled speculation that foreign powers are covertly intervening in Libya’s militia violence because Libya’s air force does not possess the guided ordinance apparently used in the strikes and the country’s army is reeling from weeks of intense fighting driven by polarized politics.
The violence in Libya is rooted in the empowerment of militias after successive transitional governments since the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi depended on them to maintain order in the absence of a strong police force or a unified military.
It also came as part of a backlash by Islamist factions after losing their power in parliament following June elections and in the face of a campaign by a renegade military general against extremist Islamic militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city.
A militia leader said the warplanes targeted the Interior Ministry and several militia positions, setting fire to a warehouse. He said two sons of the head of the military council of Misrata militias, Ibrahim Bin Rajab, were among the wounded. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.
Another militia member, spokesman Mohammed al-Gharyani, said more than 30 fighters were wounded in the airstrikes but that the militia had not abandoned its positions, including the Interior Ministry, the army headquarters and the military police headquarters.
Al-Gharyani said militia fighters from other areas and towns were joining the Misrata forces and “our response will be severe.”
Similar airstrikes carried out Monday also targeted camps and areas occupied by Islamists militias from Misrata and allied groups.
A senior militia leader, Ahmed Hadiya, accused Egypt and the United Arab Emirates of involvement in the attacks, without elaborating.
Hadiya, speaking in the name of an umbrella group of Islamist militias called Dawn of Libya, said the groups reserve the right to retaliate. He also didn’t elaborate.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Attie dismissed the accusations. “We don’t pay attention to such talk. Our position is clear — we are with the Libyan people and not with this side or that,” he said by telephone. “We don’t interfere in the internal affairs” of neighbors.
There was no immediate comment from the Emirates.
Egypt had previously denied military involvement in Libya.
Neighboring Algeria, Italy and other countries have also denied involvement. Libya’s government has called on the military to investigate.
Meanwhile, Cairo is hosting a meeting Monday for Libya’s neighbors to discuss ways to address the chaos in the oil-rich north African nation.
Hadiya said the militia forces are “calling on parliament to convene urgently to take the necessary measures to protect state sovereignty.”
It was not clear what the groups expect from the parliament — in the country that has been split between rival militias and political groups, along Islamist and non-Islamist lines as well as geographical areas.
Misrata militia leaders have blamed past attacks on forces allied to renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who has been leading a campaign against Islamic extremists in the country’s east and has used helicopters. But there is little evidence that he has the capability to carry out such strikes from hundreds of miles away and with what appear to be guided munitions.
This is the worst bout of violence Libya has witnessed since 2011. A battle for control of Tripoli’s international airport and surrounding areas has been raging for weeks, pitting the powerful Zintan militia from the western mountains against the Islamist-allied Misrata militia, named for the coastal city where it waged some of the most intense battles of the uprising.
The fighting has largely destroyed Tripoli’s airport and prompted diplomats, foreign nationals and thousands of Libyans to flee.
Dawn of Libya group said on its Facebook page that it has seized control of bases of the Zintan militia, effectively gaining control over the airport.
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