Libyan capital's airport shut as 20 killed in fighting

#LibyaCrisis

All operations suspended at Mitiga airport as rival groups battle for control amid claims of thousands being held in secret prison

The international airport is under the control of the Al-Radaa (AFP)
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Last update: 
Monday 15 January 2018 21:22 UTC
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Fighting at the Libyan capital's only working international airport killed at least 20 people Monday, officials said, after militiamen attacked it in an attempt to free colleagues held at a jail there.

Mitiga airport, a former military air base on the eastern outskirts of the capital, was evacuated when the clashes erupted and roads to the facility were closed.

Six Libyan aircrafts on the tarmac were hit by gunfire, an airport source said.

In an updated casualty toll, the health ministry of Libya's UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) said 20 people were killed and 63 wounded in the clashes.

It did not specify if the casualties were civilians or fighters.

The Facebook page of Mitiga airport, in eastern Tripoli, said "flights have been suspended because of fighting that broke out this morning".

Al-Radaa, a force loyal to the UN-backed Libyan government and tasked with keeping the facility secure, said in a statement it had come under attack.

An armed group "has attacked Mitiga international airport... which is home to a prison where more than 2,500 people are held for various" reasons, Al-Radaa said on Facebook.

Fighters attacked in a bid "to free" some of its members being held there, it added, without identifying the attackers or saying if there were casualties or damage.

Heavy gunfire could be heard as far away as Tajura 30km east of Tripoli, the AFP news agency said, adding that all roads to Mitiga were closed.

A Libyan pilot said the airport, the scene of frequent clashes between rival militias, had been evacuated.

"All the staff and passengers who were at the airport were evacuated," the pilot said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We saw tanks in the airport's perimeter," he added.

Mitiga has been a civilian airport since Tripoli's main international airport was badly damaged in fighting between rival militias in mid-2014.

Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi, with rival authorities and militias battling for control of the oil-rich country.

The North African country has rival administrations, with the authorities in the east not recognising the GNA based in the capital. Al-Radaa is loyal to the GNA and also serves as a police force in Tripoli.