Libya in shock after Tripoli airport attack

Media caption,
Libyan government spokesman Ahmed Lamine: ''Ninety per cent of the airplanes were hit''

Libyans are stunned after two days of fighting between rival militias leaves the country's main international airport out of action.

At least eight people have died in the clashes and 12 planes were damaged.

The airport remains in the hands of the Zintan militia which has controlled it since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted.

The government has been unable to disarm the numerous armed groups that took part in the 2011 uprising and which have divided the country.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
This plane was totally destroyed

All flights to and from the airport have been suspended until at least Wednesday.

The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says the airport's control tower has been damaged, along with fuel tanks and service areas, while the customs house has been completely destroyed.

Government spokesman Ahmed Lamine said that 90% of the planes stationed at the airport had been damaged.

He said the government was considering a request for "international forces to enhance security".

"This would give the government time to build the state and institutions," he added.

On Sunday, militia including members of the Islamist Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) tried to seize control of the airport from the Zintan militia.

Our correspondent says both militias are believed to be on the official payroll.

Analysts say Islamist groups did not fare well in last month's elections and some see the surge in violence as an attempt by the armed wings of these blocs to expand their control of the country's key installations.

Analysis: Rana Jawad, BBC News, Tripoli

The extent of the damage to the airport is not yet clear but some say it could take months before it reopens.

Very little shocks Libyans these days, but the latest attack on this vital lifeline has left many at a loss for words. They didn't think any militia would ever go that far - it was raining Grad rockets across the airport and its surrounding area.

Residents nearby have been terrified. Those who have the option to move to safer areas have - but most can't.

One Libyan said it reminded her of the sanctions in the 1990s - when Libya was a pariah state under Col Gaddafi, cut off from much of the world and going abroad meant a boat or a road trip before possibly boarding a plane elsewhere.

The government says it is considering the possibility of requesting an international force - it could be an empty threat to gain more leverage on all the militias - but it could also be that they feel they have run out of options. A bigger, more powerful force is needed to subdue all the armed groups - that would take an army that Libya doesn't have.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Zintan militia remains in charge of the airport
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Those planes which were relatively unscathed will still not be flying for some time
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Several vehicles and aircraft were damaged in Sunday's fighting

The fighting has led the United Nations to announce the withdrawal of all its staff from Libya.

"The mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work... while at the same time ensuring the security and safety of its staff," the UN said in a statement.

Blessing and curse

Tripoli international airport, 30km (18 miles) south of the capital, is Libya's main transport link with the outside world.

The country's second-largest airport in Benghazi has been closed for two months. Misrata airport, the only remaining airport with regular international flights, was also closed on Monday.

Who are the militias?

Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room:

Islamist agenda

LROR used to be officially tasked with protecting the capital

It was stripped of this power after its members kidnapped then Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October 2013

Still believed to be on official payroll

Zintan militia:

Controlled Tripoli airport and nearby area since 2011

Refuses to hand over Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, to central authority

Attacked parliamentary building in May

Believed to be on payroll of Ministry of Defence - fighters also enlisted in army

Analysts say the various armed groups are seen by Libyans as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, in the absence of an effective army, they provide security across much of the country and protect the borders.

On the other, they have been accused of human rights abuses, unlawful detention and of taking the law into their own hands.

Our correspondent says that none of the militias has any air force - they are engaged in a turf war.

Media caption,
The BBC's Rana Jawad says the government is considering requesting help from international forces "to prevent chaos"

The government uses some of the armed groups to provide security from time to time, including the Zintan militia.

The eastern city of Benghazi has been wracked by fighting between a rogue general, Khalifa Haftar, and Islamist groups, while many oil fields remain in the hands of separatist groups.

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