The Libyan capital witnessed Monday heavy arms clashes near the International Airport and a local prison, killing up to 16 people, injuring dozens of others and disrupting air traffic amid information that the attackers were seeking the release of radical prisoners.
"The criminal militia known as Bashir Khalafullah, aka Bashir Buqarah, and all the criminals wanted by the Deterrent Force attacked the International Airport after escaping (jail) and joining the militia," the Special Deterrent Force (Rada) in charge of securing the airport said in a statement.
Militias led by Khalafullah, loyal to the former Salvation Government led by Khalifa al-Ghawil and based in the Tajoura district of the eastern suburb of the capital, launched an attack using heavy arms at dawn on Mitiga International Airport and a nearby prison.
The attack was repelled by the Special Deterrent Force, led by Abdul Rauf Kara, and an operation to secure the area was ongoing.
Photographs of the streets surrounding the airport were posted on Rada’s official Facebook page, showing pick-up trucks mounted with guns, armored vehicles and a tank.
Rada noted that the attackers are being dealt with "until they are defeated and expelled from the Mitiga airport and the prison, where more than 2,500 inmates are detained on various charges."
Mitiga is a military air base near the center of Tripoli that began hosting civilian flights after the international airport was put out of service in 2014.
Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said the attackers sought the release of al-Qaeda and ISIS prisoners held at a major jail in the airport facility. Two cargo planes were hit in the fighting and a nearby highway was shut.
He denounced what he called a “premeditated” attack on the airport.
At least 20 people were killed in the clashes and 60 wounded, including civilians, a health ministry official said.
Heavy gunfire could be heard outside the airport and all roads to Mitiga were closed.
Security forces reporting to the interior ministry said both civilians and military areas of the airport were under control and undamaged, and that “a group of outlaw attackers has been apprehended”.