Members of the self-declared Libyan National Army, a brigade of former rebels against Muammar Gaddafi, shelled bases belonging to Ansar al-Sharia and another Islamist militant group in Benghazi on Friday.
More bodies are coming in from areas outside Benghazi.Hospital worker
Since the 2011 civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been unable to impose authority over such brigades who refuse to disarm and have carved out regional fiefdoms.
The Libyan National Army was targeting Ansar al-Sharia – a group which has been blamed for a number of attacks in Benghazi – including attacks on police and the military. The US designates Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist organisation.
The violence prompted Libya’s prime minister to order the regular military to control any armed groups – including the Libyan National Army. Authorities also closed Benghazi’s Benina airport on Friday evening.
Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni told reporters: “We have given orders … to intercept any force trying to enter Benghazi because they don’t have legitimacy from the state.”
Retired General Khalifa Haftar leads the Libyan National Army, and in February there were rumours he was planning a coup, after appearing in military uniform to call for a presidential committee to be formed to govern until new elections.
“There is no set timeframe. We will continue until Libya has got rid of them,” General Haftar’s spokesman said, referring to the Islamist militants.
Medical workers said the death toll from Friday’s fighting could rise higher. “More bodies are coming in from areas outside Benghazi,” said a hospital worker.