Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said he has survived an assassination attempt on Tuesday, when armed demonstrators – calling for his resignation – shot at his convoy as he fled a parliament session in Tobruk.
Speaking to Libya Channel shortly after the attack, the Prime Minister blamed a “paid” mob for the assault, that followed him in several cars and injured three of his body guards.
“We thought something might happen from the morning due to the behavior of the ‘protesters’,” he said on the phone from the eastern city where he had traveled to attend the meeting.
When gunfire was heard and a car set alight outside the gated venue in a naval base, the head of the parliament asked the government to evacuate fearing the situation was getting out of control.
“When we tried to leave,a group – who called themselves demonstrators – faced us but we knew they were paid… their goal was to create chaos. We are for peaceful demonstrations and against political assassinations,” he added.
Eyewitnesses at the scene said crowds – armed with shotguns – started chanting “no to Thinni” and holding posters calling for him to step down. They set fire to a vehicle near the building prompting the panic before shooting began.
Thinni, whose offices are based in Bayda some 360km west of Tobruk, blamed Libyan TV mogul Hassan Tatanaki who owns Libya Awalan channel, which usually supports the internationally-recognized authorities.
He called his outlet “unprofessional” and “seditious” and out for personal gain in the interview and accused Tatanaki of inciting his supporters to attend the violent demonstration.
Thinni’s office issued a statement shortly after the attack, pointing to the alleged presence of Tatanaki’s family members in the crowd.
“Libya Awalan has been waging a systematic campaign against the government and the prime minister for some time,” the Tuesday communique read.
“With the intention of furthering the interests of the person who owns the channel after the PM rejected his request to be appointed head of the Libyan Investment Authority, and also with the intention of creating chaos,” it continued.
Libya Channel was unable to reach Libya Awalan for comment.
Members of the House of Representatives who witnessed the assassination attempt criticized the authorities’ inability to protect its own staffers.
“A lot of money is spent on security, they have sophisticated weapons but were unable to provide security to day,” said HoR member Amal Bayou, calling the events a “farce”.
Abdul-Hafiz Gogha, a political analyst and former member of Libya’s interim legislature the National Transitional council, told Libya Channel an immediate investigation was needed.
“If this government cannot protect themselves, how will Libyans?” he asked.
The attack underlines the growing troubles and fractures that the internationally-recognized government is facing as the country edges closer to total collapse.
Thinni is attempting the run the country in exile, over 1500km from Tripoli, after armed groups and Islamist-leaning politicians in Libya Dawn overran the capital last summer.
In the year-long turmoil, Mr Thinni has faced huge troubles accessing the country’s lucrative oil revenues as the Central Bank and National Oil Corporation has struggled to remain neutral by paying nothing but basic salaries to both sides.
Parliament – meanwhile – opened in a Tobruk hotel but was forced to move the naval base after a suicide bomber detonated a car in front of the hotel in December.
The House of Representatives is being challenged by a Tripoli-based assembly known as General National Congress set up after a rival faction seized the capital in August.