Fighting in Libyan capital disrupts airport operations

Intense clashes have erupted between the primary armed factions associated with the Tripoli-based government in Libya’s capital, resulting in the suspension of flights from the city’s sole civilian airport.

Clashes between the 444 Brigade and the Al-Radaa Force, also known as the Special Deterrence Force, erupted on Monday night and extended into Tuesday, as stated by an official from the interior ministry.

“Clashes affected several areas of Tripoli’s eastern suburbs, in Ain Zara south of Tripoli, pitting the forces of 444 Brigade against those of Al-Radaa”, the official told media on condition of anonymity.

As of Tuesday morning, ongoing fighting was reported with no immediate accounts of casualties. The clashes prompted the closure of roads around Mitiga airport, according to the official.

Late on Monday, images circulated on social media portraying armored vehicles and armed pickups positioned in the eastern and southern parts of Tripoli. This followed the detention of 444 Brigade commander Mahmud Hamza at Mitiga airport, situated in an area under the control of Al-Radaa.

“Tensions arose” soon after it was announced “the Al-Radaa Force had arrested the head of the 444 Brigade, without explaining whether this was on judicial orders or for other reasons”, the official said.

Columns of smoke became visible in Tripoli, accompanied by the sound of gunfire echoing through the densely populated Ain Zara suburb. The unrest extended to locations near the airport and Tripoli University, prompting the suspension of classes.

Mitiga airport experienced a suspension of air traffic, leading to flights being rerouted to Misrata, located approximately 180 kilometers (110 miles) to the east.

Since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, Libya has grappled with divisions exacerbated by the proliferation of armed groups whose allegiances constantly shift.

Linked to Libya’s defense ministry, the 444 Brigade is renowned for its discipline and is considered one of the most organized armed units in the North African nation.

It exercises authority over the southern outskirts of Tripoli, in addition to the municipalities of Tarhuna and Bani Walid as the strategic road connects between the capital and the southern regions of the country.

Under the command of Abdel Rauf Karah, the Al-Radaa Force stands as a formidable ultra-conservative militia serving as Tripoli’s law enforcement agency.

It asserts its independence from both the interior and defense ministries, establishing control over the central and eastern sectors of Tripoli. In addition, it maintains authority over the Mitiga air base, the civilian airport, and a prison.

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