Libyan militia takes over Tripoli airport
Published Monday, June 4, 2012
A militia of former Libyan rebels entered Tripoli international with tanks and armored vehicles, completely blocking air traffic on Monday, a day after their leader was arrested, officials said.
"It is total confusion. Everyone is fleeing. Several armored vehicles and tanks are positioned on the tarmac, blocking traffic," an official at the airport told AFP.
Another official said the militia, called al-Awfea Brigade from the town of Tarhouna, 80km southeast of Tripoli, demanded the release of one of their leaders whom they said had disappeared last night.
"The situation in the airport is very tense and tanks are surrounding the buildings. No one is allowed into the building," said the official, who declined to be named.
Airport #Tripoli closed due to plumes of smokes in area - confusion, all planes halted
— AC Tripolis (@david_bachmann_) June 4, 2012
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) June 4, 2012
An airport customs official said flights were canceled and incoming planes were diverted to Tripoli's Mitiga Airport.
The official Lana news agency, citing witnesses, confirmed the "assault," saying that the motive of the gunmen was to pressure the government to explain the detention of their leader, Colonel Abu Ajila al-Habshi.
The ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) spokesman Mohammed al-Harizy said Habshi was kidnapped by unknown armed rebels while traveling between Tarhouna and Tripoli late Sunday night.
Libya's interim government took control of Tripoli International airport in April from a coalition of brigades that had been guarding the facility since the capital's liberation in August 2011.
A plethora of heavily armed militias still roam the country, plaguing the country's internal security and dampening hopes for a full transition to democracy.
Western military intervention in Libya last year brought with it an influx of weapons, with Gulf Arab states also supplying arms to rebels, many of whom now refuse to hand them over to the NTC.
(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)