Clashes between rival armed groups rock Tripoli

Libya Channel with Reuters

Heavy gunfire broke out in the Libyan capital on Saturday after two rival armed groups affiliated to Libya Dawn clashed in the city center over the killing of one of their fighters. At least one person died in the clashes.

The violence illustrated the complex security situation in Tripoli where several quasi-official groups operate as law enforcement controlling different districts, and clashes sometimes occur over territory or personal disputes.

Although the fighting concentrated on Camp 77, a former military compound just opposite Bab al-Aziziya – once Gaddafi’s Tripoli headquarters –  eyewitnesses told Libya Channel that surrounding neighborhoods were also affected, including Bab Benghashir, Abuslim, Sur Road, and Jumhuriya Street.

One civilian died in the crossfire, our correspondent in Tripoli reported. Two fighters were also reportedly killed, although this has not been confirmed.

The clashes were between the Sixth Team brigade (al-Firqa al-Sadisa), which is based in the in the central neighborhood of Zawiyat Dahmani and claimed to be an official police unit, and a group belonging to the Sumud front, which is led by Misratan commander Salah Badi.

Several other forces were also reported to have been involved, such as the Salah Al-Burki brigade  from Abuslim neighborhood, which is linked to Abdelghani al-Kikli, aka Ghniwa. The Special Deterrence Force, which some said has ties to the Sixth Team brigade, vehemently denied it played any role and said on its official Facebook page any of its members involved in the clashes carried the responsibility himself.

Tensions were high following the killing of Abdelmutalib Aburgiba, a member of the Sixth Team brigade, on March 12. Sumud brigade refused to hand over the man who killed Aburgiba, triggering the clashes, informed sources told Libya Channel.

The clashes left numerous cars in the area burning. Black smoke rose over the area and military vehicles were seen patrolling through streets nearby.

The clashes came at a particularly sensitive time, as the UN-backed Government of National Accord, which is currently still based in Tunis, is meant to move to Tripoli to exercise its functions from there. In an interview on Libya Channel earlier this week, GNA Prime Minister Faiez Serraj said that the Presidency Council, which heads the government, was only “days away” from entering the capital and that a broad agreement had been reached with security forces there to ensure a smooth power handover.

Tripoli’s self-declared government and several of the armed groups in the city however reject the GNA and warned the Presidency Council to stay away from the capital. Although Saturday’s events do not appear to have any direct link to the political power struggle, tensions between armed groups backing the new unity government and others opposing it have previously led to fighting.

Tripoli has been under control of an armed alliance called Libya Dawn since 2014 when its forces drove rivals out of the city, set up their own government and reinstated the former parliament as part of power struggle for control.

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