CAIRO: An umbrella group for eastern Libya’s extremist militias announced Wednesday it had overrun three more army bases in the city of Benghazi and seized large amounts of heavy weapons, including armored vehicles, as they tightened their grip on the country’s second city.
The Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council, composed of extremist militias like Ansar al-Shariah, posted pictures on the Internet of its leaders posing in front of tanks, rocket launchers, and artillery they claimed to have seized from the army bases.
The pictures could not be verified but in the past weeks the militants have seized several other bases belonging to the remnants of the Libyan army. A security official in the city confirmed the militias’ recent victories and said they were now shelling the army’s remaining strongholds on the outskirts of the city.
Ansar al-Shariah is branded a terrorist group by Washington and is accused of orchestrating the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012, in which four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed.
The militias launched a counteroffensive after units loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s anti-Islamist ‘Dignity’ movement attempted to dislodge them from the city months earlier.
Despite support from several army units, including the elite special forces, Haftar’s troops have largely been driven out of the city and are now cornered in the Benina Airport outside the city.
The security official said that the militias had been pounding the airport with Grad rockets.
Meanwhile, in the capital, Mahdi al-Harati, an Irish-Libyan who commanded rebel groups in Libya and Syria, was elected mayor of Tripoli, state news agency Lana reported.
Harati, 41, who spent 20 years in Ireland, was chosen by the Libyan capital’s new municipal council, voted in on May 17.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to take part in the armed revolt that overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and founded the Tripoli Brigade, which fought its way into the capital in August of that year.
The fighting in Tripoli started last month and has prompted diplomats, foreigners and Libyans to flee for the Tunisian border.
British Royal Navy ship the HMS Enterprise arrived in Malta on Wednesday carrying 93 people evacuated from strife-torn Libya, its second such mission this week, British officials said, and Turkey announced that it was suspending work at its embassy, two weeks after asking nationals to leave.
Sudan said the situation did not yet warrant an evacuation, despite the fact that 18 Sudanese nationals were killed by a rocket strike in Tripoli.
A briefing to Cabinet Tuesday said “18 Sudanese nationals were killed in one incident due to fall of a random rocket on the area of their residence on the outskirts of Tripoli,” the state SUNA news agency said, quoting Cabinet spokesman Omer Mohammed Salih.