A report by The Washington Post revealing the identity of the foreign pilot, whose aircraft was downed by the Libyan National Army on May 7, has sparked controversy in Libya.
The controversy comes amid accusations against Fayez al-Sarraj's Government of National Accord (GNA) of using mercenaries in the battle for the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
The newspaper had quoted US officials as saying that an American Air Force veteran was freed after a six-week detention, noting that he was accused of acting as a mercenary in Libya.
A Libyan official slammed GNA’s attempt to use foreign fighters in Tripoli’s battle.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that both parties need to stop resorting to foreign aid in internal battles.
Jamie Sponaugle, a 31-year-old Florida man, was piloting a Mirage F1 combat jet near Tripoli when his plane went down. He had long worked at Libya’s air academy, based in the city of Misrata, the Post said.
In images released by the LNA shortly after the incident, Sponaugle was seen bloodied and receiving medical treatment from LNA forces after his aircraft went down.
Video that appeared on social media showed him identifying himself as a Portuguese national named Jimmy Rees and saying he was in Libya under a civilian contract focused on “destroying bridges and roads.”
The apparent involvement of an American military veteran in the battle for Tripoli between the LNA and the GNA, illustrates the complexity of a long-simmering conflict that has emerged as a major global proxy war involving illicit arms and dueling accusations of mercenary use.
Meanwhile, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Sayala discussed Wednesday with his Chinese counterpart the situation in Tripoli.
According to the statement released by GNA’s foreign ministry, Wang Yi stressed the importance of resuming dialogue to solve the Libyan crisis.
Yi noted that his country supports Libya’s unity and stability, and rejects any foreign intervention in its affairs.
He pointed out that China wants its companies to participate in Libya’s reconstruction.