BENGHAZI, Libya: A Libyan warplane under the command of a renegade former general targeted an Islamist militia base in the eastern city of Benghazi Sunday but instead hit a university building, witnesses said.
The attack was part of a campaign by irregular forces loyal to ex-army Gen. Khalifa Haftar to purge the North African state of Islamist militants whom he says the weak central government has failed to control.
Libya is in turmoil three years after the NATO-backed war that ousted Moammar Gadhafi, with Islamist, anti-Islamist, regional and political factions locked in conflict.
One jet attacked a historic building which houses a base belonging to the militant group Ansar al-Shariah, said Mohammad al-Hejazi, a spokesman for Haftar.
“Our forces attacked the crown prince’s former building where Ansar al-Shariah is based,” he said.
But a Reuters reporter at the scene said there was no damage at the building that had been home to the crown prince when Libya was a kingdom before Gadhafi’s 1969 coup.
Instead the warplane fired three rockets at a neighboring university engineering faculty, said its dean, Nasser al-Aqouri.
Two people were wounded, Aqouri said. “Thank God, lectures had already finished but there is huge material damage.”
Hejazi said the jet had taken off from Benghazi’s Benina air base, where regular military units have joined Haftar’s campaign which began last month.
“We will not stop until the people’s demands are met,” said the 70-year-old Haftar, who also called on Libya’s tribes to support him.
But some rival militia brigades and political factions have rejected his offensive against militants as an attempted coup, after Haftar’s forces also attacked parliament a week ago.
He claims to have more than 75 percent of Benghazi under his control. He also says he is getting help from moderate Islamists who were breaking away from their militias and joining his forces.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb urged Libyans to reject Haftar, labeling him an “enemy of Islam.”
“We call on you to unite to remove the symbol of treachery and apostasy, Khalifa Haftar, and the supporters of [late dictator Moammar] Gadhafi who are under his command,” AQIM said in its statement posted on jihadist Internet forums Sunday.
“Thanks to the support of the bloodthirsty [Egyptian President-elect Abdel-Fattah] Sisi, American complicity and funding from Gulf countries, the traitor Haftar has launched a war against Islam on the pretext of fighting terrorism,” it said.
“We warn our Libyan brothers that the criminal Haftar is carrying out a crusader plan against Shariah, and we especially urge the Libyan heroes of the revolution to strongly resist it.”
On Tuesday, Ansar al-Shariah also slammed Haftar and threatened that he could end up like Gadhafi, killed by rebels eight months after the 2011 uprising erupted.
Ansar al-Shariah, classified as a terrorist group by Washington, also called on Libyans to disassociate themselves from Haftar “Operation Dignity” campaign.
But Haftar says the people have given him a “mandate” to press ahead with his offensive after thousands demonstrated in Tripoli and Benghazi to support him.