BENGHAZI, Libya: Islamist militants attacked an army base in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi Monday, triggering fierce clashes involving helicopters and jets that killed at least seven people and wounded 40 others, residents and security sources said.
The violence followed a week of fighting between rival militias for control of Tripoli International Airport in the capital that has prompted Libya’s leaders to appeal for international help to stop the country becoming a failed state.
Tripoli was calmer Monday, but in Benghazi militants linked to Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah attacked an army camp and were repelled by troops and forces loyal to renegade retired general Khalifa Haftar, who has been waging a self-declared war on Islamist fighters, security sources said.
“Ansar al-Sharia tried to take over one special forces camp, but the special forces and Haftar’s forces fought back, using helicopters and military aircraft in their attack,” one source said, asking not to be identified for security reasons.
Since the 2011 civil war that toppled autocrat Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s fragile government and new army have been unable to assert authority over rival brigades of former rebels fighting for political and economic influence.
Ansar al-Sharia is listed by Washington as a foreign terrorist organization, and has entrenched itself in Benghazi, where it has often been blamed for assassinations and attacks on soldiers.
Haftar, a former Gadhafi army officer who fled to the United States after breaking ranks with the Libyan leader, has launched a campaign on the Islamists in Benghazi, bringing to his side elements of the regular army and air force.
Tripoli’s central government says he is acting without the authorization of the state. While his campaign is popular with many in the east, his forces appear to be in a stalemate over Benghazi for now.
A Filipino construction worker kidnapped by militiamen in Benghazi has been beheaded by his captors, the Filipino government has said.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the worker was kidnapped on July 15. He was subsequently beheaded and his decomposed body was found in a hospital Sunday.
“The vehicle he was riding in was stopped in a checkpoint. There were three of them – a Libyan, a Pakistani and a Filipino and he was allegedly singled out because he was non-Muslim,” Jose said.
The kidnappers initially demanded a $160,000 ransom from the worker’s employers. But the captors called again Sunday, pointing them to the Benghazi hospital.
The Filipino government is currently enforcing the mass evacuation of around 13,000 citizens there due to the increasing violence and lawlessness, the closure of major airports, and the heightened threat to safety, particularly in Benghazi.
In the capital, the clash over Tripoli airport over the past week has killed at least 47 people, the Health Ministry said, in some of the worst violence in the city since the 2011 civil war.
The clashes have stopped most international flights, damaged more than a dozen planes parked at the airport and prompted the United Nations to pull its staff out of the country due to security concerns.
The airport battle mirrors the broader standoff between rival factions competing for power in Libya, each claiming the mantle of rebel savior, each heavily armed and each demanding their share of the post-Gaddafi spoils.