News / World

Tanks deployed as militias clash in Libya's capital; 8 dead

BENGHAZI, Libya — Heavily armed militias clashed in neighbourhoods across the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Thursday, leaving at least eight fighters dead, according to the state-run Lana news agency.

Tanks and convoys of militiamen streamed into the streets, and witnesses reported gunfire in southern, central, and western districts in Tripoli.

Resident Mohammed Makki told The Associated Press that the clashes started between two militia groups but then, "there was surely a quick spread of clashes, like wildfire."

"Now everyone is getting involved, like stabbing in the dark," added Makki, who is also a surgeon.

One of the warring factions, a militia called Tripoli Revolutionaries, accused rivals of abductions, killings, and smuggling migrants.

In a statement, it said that it killed the rival militias' commander and three of his forces while it lost one of its militiamen. "From here we warn anyone who dares to try to destabilize Tripoli," it added.

Pictures posted on social media showed masked armed men on pick-up trucks in the streets in Tripoli. Black smoke billowed into the sky while blasts rang across the capital and residents were asked to remain home. Most of the fighting took place near the famous Rixos hotel, which was once the headquarters for the outgoing parliament but exchanged hands between militias since then.

Tripoli has been held hostage by various unruly militias since Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's ruler for 42 years, was ousted and killed in 2011. These militias originated with the rebels that ousted Gadhafi.

Today, neighbourhoods are divided between militias, some from Tripoli and others from neighbouring towns and cities like Misrata. The militias are also split ideologically, with some inspired by radical Islamic ideologies.

In 2014, the country was split between rival governments and parliaments where each side is backed by a set of militias and tribes. Amid the chaos, militias were engaged in abductions and revenge attacks.

Most recently, a senior Islamic figure and scholar Nader al-Omrani was abducted and his slain body was found weeks later in Tripoli. Al-Omrani's killing was blamed on one of the militias fighting Thursday in Tripoli.

Fighting against Islamic militants is taking place in more than one city across the country; fighters backed by the internationally-recognized parliament, based in the eastern region, are battling militants in the eastern city of Benghazi. Other forces that answer to a United Nations' brokered government, which is based in Tripoli, are battling Islamic State militants in the city of Sirte, the birthplace of Gadhafi.

The conflict has left thousands dead and injured. The U.N. Support Mission in Libya said in a report on Thursday that at least 38 civilians including eight children and three women were killed in November.