Friday 28 October 2016

Libya Islamists Seize Key Benghazi Army Base

File-AP Photo/AP video

Islamist groups have seized the army special forces headquarters in Libya's Benghazi after days of fighting left at least 35 soldiers dead and plunged the country deeper into lawlessness.

An Islamist and jihadist alliance announced the capture of the main military base in the eastern city in a statement yesterday, which was confirmed by an army official.

Ansar al-Sharia, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington, posted photos on Facebook of dozens of weapons and crates of ammunition it claimed its jihadists had seized from the base.

Libya's Red Crescent said it had recovered the bodies of 35 soldiers from the base.

"Up to now we have managed to recover 35 bodies. But there are more to be found," Red Crescent spokesman Mohamed al-Misrati told AFP.

Fighting in Benghazi has claimed about another 60 lives since Saturday, medical officials in the city said.

"Special forces under the command of (Colonel) Wanis Abu Khamada withdrew after several attacks," said the army official after the biggest loss yet for the armed forces in their fight against the country's powerful militias.

The special forces are one of the units of Libya's regular armed forces that support rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, but they have not placed themselves under his command.

Haftar began his offensive against radical Islamist groups in Benghazi, dubbed "Operation Dignity", in mid-May.

Yesterday, intermittent gunfire was heard in several parts of the city, and protesters managed to peacefully evict members of the "Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries" from Al-Jala hospital that they controlled, an AFP correspondent said.

Former deputy premier and MP Mustapha Abu Shagur was meanwhile freed by his kidnappers, hours after they snatched him from his Tripoli home on Tuesday, his family said.

The kidnapping highlighted the failure of authorities to rein in militias that sprang up during the 2011 uprising which overthrew long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

"Doctor Abu Shagur has been freed. He is tired but in good health," his nephew Isam al-Naass told AFP.

Libya's recently elected parliament had been due to meet in Benghazi on August 4 but will instead hold an emergency meeting Saturday in the eastern city of Tobruk, a lawmaker said.

"In light of the dangerous situation in the country we decided to hold an emergency meeting in Tobruk," east of Benghazi, said Abu Bakr Biira, the MP who was due to preside over the inaugural session.

Amid rising lawlessness, several countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada and Bulgaria, evacuated citizens or closed their embassies in Tripoli earlier this week.

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