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Libyan families file $125m lawsuit in US against rebel leader Khalifa Haftar

Lawsuit claims Haftar is responsible for 'wrongful death' of two Libyan men killed in offensive near Tripoli
General Khalifa Haftar's forces launched offensive on Libya's capital in April (AFP/File photo)

The families of two slain Libyan men filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in the United States against rebel general Khalifa Haftar, the leader of a militia group fighting to take control of Libya's capital.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court on Wednesday, alleges that Ayman al-Harramah and Msaddek Tunalli were killed when Haftar-controlled forces bombed civilian neighbourhoods outside of Tripoli.

The families are demanding $125m in damages for wrongful deaths, according to the court filings.

Abdulhameed al−Harramah, the father of Ayman, and Aida Elzagally, the wife of Msaddek, along with his seven children, are listed as plaintiffs in the case.

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The families say the two men were killed during an offensive on the capital led by Haftar, a US citizen and former resident of Virginia, where the lawsuit has been filed. 

Msaddek's brother, Abdulhakim Tunalli, who is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a phone interview with the Associated Press on Thursday that his brother and others were helping people evacuate a neighbourhood that was being bombed when they were killed.

"Basically what Haftar did - attacking Tripoli, bombing civilians randomly - they killed women and children. And they don't care," Abdulhakim said, as quoted by AP. 

The exact date of the two deaths is unclear, but fighting around Tripoli began in early April, when Haftar, leading the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), launched an offensive against Libya's internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). 

Faisal Gill, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families, accused Haftar and his forces of using the battle against so-called Islamic extremism to seize power in the North African country.

Gill told AP that after filing the lawsuit, the next step will be to serve Haftar with notice of the claims, either in the US or in Libya.

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Meanwhile, GNA forces on the outskirts of the capital have slowed Haftar's advance on Tripoli.

However, at least 739 people have been killed and more than 4,400 wounded since the fighting began, according to figures from the World Health Organisation from 25 June.

Libya has been mired in conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and led to the death of the country's longtime leader, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011. 

The resulting power vacuum helped strengthen a multitude of militias vying for control of the country.

Haftar, who had taken part in the revolt against Gaddafi, has said he wants to "purge" Libya of those he has branded as "terrorists".

He has seized much of the country's east from various militias and is backed by several countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

On Wednesday, the GNA said it made headway in pushing back Haftar's forces, retaking Gharyan, a strategic town where LNA fighters were stationed.

Dozens of LNA rebels were killed as GNA forces seized the town, and at least 18 rebels were taken prisoner, Mustafa al-Mejii, spokesman for forces loyal to the GNA, told AFP at the time. 

Although the US officially backs the GNA and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's government, Sarraj's administration has accused Western powers, especially France, of covertly backing Haftar.

In April, after President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Haftar, the White House said in a statement that Trump "recognised Field Marshall Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources".