Libya parliament attacked, 20 lawmakers kidnapped

Libya parliament attacked, 20 lawmakers kidnapped
Mon May 19, 2014 17:10:13

Militias apparently backing a renegade Libyan general attacked the country's parliament, kidnapping some 20 lawmakers and officials in an assault that threatened to further splinter a country dominated by the armed groups that overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi three years ago.

A spokesman for the Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a one-time rebel commander who said the U.S. backed his efforts topple Gadhafi in the 1990s, said the forces acted under his command. Backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire, the gunmen sent lawmakers fleeing for their lives as they ransacked the legislature. Heavy gunfire rang out into the night in Libya's capital, Tripoli, panicking residents as mortar rounds landed in their neighborhoods.

The attack, which hospital officials said killed one person and wounded nine, came after an assault Friday by Hifter's forces on militias in the restive eastern city of Benghazi that authorities said killed 70 people.

On Sunday, gunmen targeted the Islamist lawmakers and officials Hifter blames for allowing extremists to hold the country ransom, his spokesman Mohammed al-Hegazi told Libya's al-Ahrar television station.

``This parliament is what supports these extremist Islamist entities,'' al-Hegazi said. ``The aim was to arrest these Islamist bodies who wear the cloak of politics.''

The fighting spread to the capital's southern edge Sunday night and along the highway leading to the airport.

Libya's army and police rely heavily on the country's myriad of militias, the heavily armed groups formed around ethnic identity, hometowns and religion that formed out of the rebel factions that toppled Gadhafi. Bringing them under control has been one of the greatest challenges for Libya's successive interim governments, one they largely failed at as militias have seized oil terminals and even kidnapped a former prime minister seemingly at will.

Islamist-backed parliamentary head Nouri Abu Sahmein later told Libyan television station al-Nabaa that the militias loyal to the government have matters ``under control,'' and vowed to convene parliament Tuesday.


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