By Walid Abdullah
At least 11 people have been killed in clashes that erupted in and around the Mitiga International Airport near Tripoli, Libyan media reported Monday.
The private Alnabaa Libya television channel quoted Abdel-Dayim al-Murabti, the director of a Tripoli field hospital, as saying that the clashes had left 11 people dead and at least 20 others injured.
Earlier Monday, a security source from the Tripoli-based, UN-backed unity government said government forces had clashed with a rival force loyal to Libya’s so-called “salvation government” after the latter had attempted to capture the airport.
Claiming to be an extension of Libya’s now-obsolete General National Congress (elected in 2012), the “national salvation government” is a separate, unelected government also based in Tripoli.
According to the security source, who spoke anonymously due to the issue’s sensitivity, clashes erupted when the airport came under attack by an armed group hailing from the town of Tajura, which remains loyal to the salvation government.
Air traffic has since been suspended, the source said, while the airport has been completed evacuated.
Commenting on the clashes, Libya’s Presidential Council (affiliated with the UN-backed unity government) said the attacks had been aimed at securing the release of incarcerated Daesh and Al-Qaeda terrorists.
In a statement, the council condemned the assault on the airport, which, it said, had “threatened the lives of both passengers and residents of the capital”.
“This wasn’t only an attempt to free terrorists, but to derail the country’s peaceful transition process,” the statement read, going on to urge that the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law.
The council, meanwhile, has declared a temporary state of “maximum emergency” in and around the strategic airport.
Libya has been dogged by chaos since 2011, when a bloody uprising led to the ouster and death of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi after more than four decades in power.
The ensuing power vacuum led to the emergence of several rival seats of government, including one in the city of Tobruk and two others in Tripoli (including the UN-backed unity government), along with a plethora of heavily-armed militia groups.