The Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, led by local commander Haitham al-Tajuri and currently affiliated with Libya’s unity government, seized a building belonging to Libya’s general intelligence service Sunday, evicting staff and detaining some individuals.
Clashes started in the early morning and ended around noon, when the force guarding the building in the capital’s Furnaj district withdrew to neighboring area Salaheddin and the intelligence service’s main headquarters in Tajura.
Roads were blocked as a result of the fighting but by the afternoon calm had returned to Furnaj.
Several high-ranking staff members – both civilian and military – were detained by Tajuri’s brigade, a source from within the intelligence service told Al-Marsad news outlet. The service has instructed all its staff to immediately evacuate their offices, including at the sea port and Mitiga airport.
Intelligence chief Mustafa Nuh is currently in Turkey, the source told Al-Marsad, adding that Nuh’s deputy called Sunday’s attack a “coup”.
The Intelligence Authority is said to be divided between supporters of Nuh and his deputy – allegedly from the circle of the former LIFG (Libya Islamic Fighting Group) – and others, who are backing Tajuri and the Government of National Accord.
Last week, Tajuri’s brigade took hold of the Health Ministry, also located in Furnaj, fighting off a Misratan force that had been guarding the ministry. Two weeks ago, Tajuri’s men seized the Libyan Communications Ministry in Zawiya Street.
Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade – which is also knows as the First Battalion – is one of the largest in the capital, and its chief Tajuri is seeking to expand his influence. It controls a number of military bases in the neighborhoods of Furnaj, Ain Zara and Bir al-Usta Milad. The brigade is currently operating under the GNA, whose Minister of the Interior Aref al-Khuja, is supposedly close to Tajuri and other brigade commanders in eastern Tripoli.
These incidents illustrate an ongoing power struggle between, on one side, a group of predominantly Salafi forces that includes Tajuri’s Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, and, on the other side, an Islamist camp centered around former members of the LIFG, a now disbanded jihadi opposition movement to Gaddafi.
Ex LIFG figures have been accused of using politics to promote hardline religious teachings, thereby playing into the hands of the Islamic State Group. Salafi groups like Abdelrauf Kara’s Special Deterrence Force have made the fight against the IS Group their central theme, as well as entering a fragile coalition with the GNA to grant them legitimacy.
For some time now, the two factions have been trying to gain control of mosques in the capital, as well as of Dar al-Ifta’(Libya’s Fatwa Authority) and Hai’at al-Awqaf (the General Board of Religious Affairs).
The head of Dar al-Ifta’ – Libya’s “Grand Mufti” Sadeq al-Ghariani – who is no longer recognized by most people owing to his controversial political standpoints, is a central figure in the Islamist camp. Sunday also saw the start of a new anti-Ghariani campaign, which his supporters claim is being led by Kara and Tajuri. “No to the Muslim Brotherhood”, “enough bloodshed” read posters featuring Ghariani’s portrait that appeared in the capital.
Ghariani has repeatedly bashed the Special Deterrence Force for arresting who he claimed were revolutionaries, with Kara’s men responding the individuals in question were IS militants.