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Turkey-backed Libyan interior minister survives assassination attempt in Tripoli

Fathi Bashagha, one of Libya's most influential politicians, escaped unhurt after his motorcade was attacked by gunmen
Fathi Bashagha is credited with playing a key role as the capital came under attack from eastern Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar's forces in 2019 (AFP)

One of Libya's most influential politicians has escaped unhurt after his motorcade was fired on near the capital, Tripoli, according to an official close to him. 

Fathi Bashagha, the interior minister in the UN-backed Libyan government based in Tripoli, escaped without injuries, the official told AFP.

"His police escort returned fire. Two of the assailants were arrested and a third is in hospital," the source said.

A third later died in hospital, a source close to the minister said.

In a statement, the interior ministry said that Bashagha had been targeted in an "assassination attempt as he returned from his residence in Janzur".

It said the attackers had used an armoured Toyota truck armed with a machine gun. A guard had been wounded in the attack, it added.

'Outrage'

Bashagha, who is prominent in the eastern city of Misrata, was returning from a routine visit to a new security unit overseen by his department, the same source said. 

Initial investigations seemed to show those who carried out Sunday's attack were from Zawiya, another powerful city 45km west of Tripoli, Reuters reported a source as saying.

The US embassy in Tripoli voiced "outrage" at the attack, saying a member of Bashagha's team had been wounded.

'[Bashagha's] focus on ending the influence of rogue militias has our full support'

- Richard Norland, US ambassador to Libya

Bashagha's "focus on ending the influence of rogue militias has our full support," said ambassador Richard Norland.

The European Union's ambassador to Libya, based in Tunis, called for a "full investigation". 

"This hateful action must not affect ongoing political process," Jose Sabadell said on Twitter.

Bashagha, 58, has served as interior minister in the Government of National Accord since 2018 and has staked his reputation on battling corruption. 

A heavyweight in Libyan politics, he had stepped up efforts in recent months to absorb armed groups into state security forces, while trying to rein in those acting outside the state - a campaign rejected by some groups.

He had been a favourite to lead a new interim government under UN-led peace efforts following an October ceasefire last year. 

The post finally went to businessman Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, a 61-year-old engineer, who has called for reconstruction, democracy and reunification in Libya.

Despite being a losing candidate to become prime minister of the unity government, Bashagha has made public statements of support for the new administration.

He is also credited with playing a key role as the capital came under attack from eastern Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar's forces in 2019.

He is considered to be backed by Turkey, whose support helped defend the Tripoli government against Haftar.