Middle East

Explosions rock Benghazi, some Libyan jail break inmates caught

TRIPOLI: Explosions rocked the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Sunday in what appeared to be attacks on judicial buildings, a security official said, a day after more than 1,100 inmates escaped during a prison riot there.

Ten people were slightly wounded in one of the blasts which targeted a court in the north of the city, said Mohammed al-Hijazy, a spokesman for Benghazi security operations.

"Assailants threw an explosive device under a car as it was parking in front of the court," he said.

He added another explosion occurred in front of an office belonging to the justice ministry, but it was not immediately clear exactly what had happened in that incident.

Hijazy said there had been two blasts in the city, which occurred around the time families were breaking their Ramadan fast. Residents living near the court said the building, and others nearby, had sustained significant damage. Pieces of glass and rubble were scattered on the ground.

"It was very loud and I saw the smoke," resident Hassan Bakoush said. "Some balconies of nearby buildings are damaged."

Armed violence and lawlessness, caused in part by militia groups who often do as they please, has hobbled governance in large areas of the oil-producing North African state following the 2011 war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

Earlier officials said that about 100 inmates out of 1,117 who escaped during a riot in Kuafiya prison on the outskirts of Benghazi on Saturday had been recaptured.

Officials said there had been an attack on the jail compound from outside as well as a riot inside after which some prisoners set their cloths and bed sheets on fire.

Guards then opened the gates to let them escape the fire, Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani told reporters in the capital Tripoli after visiting Benghazi. Residents had helped guards to arrest some escapees.

Mohammed Sharif, head of security in Benghazi, said some prisoners had turned themselves in and others had been captured.

"The prison is back in operation as of this morning," he told Reuters. "Seventy prisoners were brought in initially. Another 30 were caught in the town of al-Marj and seven in Ajdabiyah. They will be brought back to Kuafiya," he said, referring to towns in eastern Libya.

Officials said the escapees included criminals from other African states.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan confirmed the incident but gave no numbers. He said residents had carried out the attack because they did not want the jail near their homes.

Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 revolt, has seen a wave of violence since last year with attacks on security forces as well as foreign targets, including the assault on the U.S. mission last September in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

Saturday's jail break came as hundreds of protesters attacked the Benghazi and Tripoli offices of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood and the headquarters of a liberal coalition in the capital after demonstrations turned violent late on Friday.

Hundreds of people had taken to the streets to denounce the killing of a prominent political activist and critic of the Brotherhood, Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, who was shot after leaving a Benghazi mosque following Friday prayers.

"These were professional killers, not normal criminals," Marghani said, adding that the government wanted a team from "friendly" countries and U.N. Security Council members to investigate the violence.

Zeidan said he would reshuffle his cabinet and reorganise the government to cope with the "urgent" situation in the country following the death of Mosmary and two military officials who were also killed in Benghazi on Friday.

 

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