The death toll in a blast and clashes in Garabulli, West Libya, has risen to over 40 dead, officials have said, as thousands gathered for funerals in the centre of the town for those killed in the violence.
Sharif Ahmad Jadallah, a spokesman for the municipal council in Garabulli, which lies 65km east of Tripoli, said at least 40 people and died and a further 25 were wounded in the violence.
The first funerals were held Thursday after lengthy delays as forensics were still collecting the remains which were badly damaged and burnt in the blast. Mourners chanted “There is no God but God, and Misrata is the enemy of the God.”
Funerals continued on Friday as more victims were discovered at the bomb site, Garabulli MP Ali al-Sul told Libya Channel. He also spoke of a “mass grave with many unidentified body parts”.
A Garabulli medical official, Ibrahim al-Gadi, said Thursday evening that at least 40 more people were still missing.
Fighting first erupted Monday when fighters from a Misratan brigade based in the town refused to to pay for goods at a shop, Jadallah said. The shop keeper – locally identified as Ali Al-Rajhi – shot the man in the leg, prompting his fellow fighters to return to loot the shop and burn down several houses later.
At dawn Tuesday armed youth from the town retaliated by attacking three of the Misratan camps, including one belonging to Bayou Battalion, whose militiamen are believed to have sparked the dispute, Libya Herald reported.
Jadallah’s account differed, saying the town’s youth were attacked first.
“[Tuesday] morning, armed locals went to the places where the members of this armed group were staying but they were shot and clashes erupted,” he said.
Locals then entered a house allegedly used by the armed group for illegal activities including migrant trafficking.
A powerful explosion caused the largest number of casualties. “An ammunition store exploded when the locals were inside the house and a great number of people were killed,” Jaddallah said.
Initial reports that a fireworks store could have been at the origin of the explosion were denied by eyewitnesses and officials.
“Judging by the leftover material described by eyewitnesses the explosion does not appear to have come from fireworks”, Ibrahim al-Gadi said. “Eyewitness reports indicate the blast killed everyone in a 100m diameter”, he added.
Residents then closed the main road in and out of the town with sand barriers, while Bayou Battalion is believed to have abandoned its bases.
But Wednesday the violence continued as angered Garabulli young men destroyed a checkpoint manned by Misratan forces on an eastern road.
By Saturday the road was open again and checkpoints were deserted.
Libya’s unity government, anchored in Tripoli and nominally in control of West Libya urged both sides to cease fighting and promised to open an investigation into the crime.
|”We] call for calm, withdrawal of [armed] formations from Garabulli area.Checkpoints will be handed to formal police and army within days,” their statement read.
“[We] will form a ministerial committee to investigate this crime. We call on everyone to cooperate to stop the bloodshed,” it added.
The Attorney General’s office later confirmed a probe into the events has been opened.
UN envoy to Libya Martin Kobler tweeted his condemnation of the attack writing ”shocked and saddened by reported violence and lives lost in Garabulli… urge all to exercise restraint.”
Garabulli has become a new hub for the trafficking of migrants desperate to get to Europe. It became an increasingly popular spot to get boats across the Mediterranean since the residents of former smuggling hotbed Zuwara – further west along the coast – rebelled against the smugglers and largely put a stop to the business.