Soldiers watch as a suspect is arrested in the centre of
Shara Alzawia in Tripoli. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
Rival Libyan militias have fired guns and
rocket-propelled grenades at each other in Tripoli and set fire
to a former intelligence building in one of the worst
breakdowns in security in the capital since Muammar Gaddafi's
At least five people were wounded and a stray bullet entered
a hospital in the heart of the city, where residents rushed
to arm themselves, saying calls to police had gone unheeded.
After more than 12 hours, the army moved in.
The violence underscored the challenge faced by Libya's first
freely-elected government, approved just last week, to rein
in militias which gained power during the conflict that ended
Gaddafi's 42-year rule a year ago and hold together a country
riven with clan, regional and sectarian divisions.
By early afternoon, a building belonging to the Supreme
Security Committee (SSC), a body set up last year to try to
regulate armed groups, was in flames and being looted by
members of a rival militia faction, witnesses said. A sports
shop that helps fund one of the militia groups was also
The fight erupted just after midnight after a dispute over
the detention of a member of one of the armed groups,
residents in the southern district of Sidi Khalifa said.
Both militias are affiliated to the SSC, an umbrella group
for various armed groups that refused to join the official
police or army, saying they were still run by Gaddafi
Civilians blocked the street where the fighting raged to
prevent cars entering the battleground where the sound of
gunfire rang out. Many civilians went home to get their own
"We called the police early in the morning to help us stop
the shooting, but no one came," resident Khaled Mohamed told
A stray bullet caused panic at the nearby Tripoli Central
Hospital, sending doctors and nurses running for cover. Dr.
Khaled Ben Nour said five casualties had been brought in.
"We have real patients with real needs. These rogue militias
need to leave us in peace so we can do our jobs," Ben Nour
Some fighters said the clash was over the detention of the
militia member while others said the SSC headquarters - a
former intelligence building - had been occupied by a militia
called Support Unit No. 8 led by Mohamed al-Warfali.
A group of rival militias - also belonging to the SCC - fired
at the building from a former post office.
"Mohamed al-Warfali and his lawless group of men have
occupied the SSC building and refuse to come out," said m
ilitia member Mohamed al-Himrazy who accused Warfali's group
of breaking SSC rules.
Others said that a militia group came to free a member
detained by Warfali in the SSC building.
The clash highlighted the dangerously chaotic nature of the
semi-official militias in Libya which hold a great deal of
power and have loyalties sometimes at odds with the
At nightfall, as the shooting was dying down, around 20 army
pick up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft surrounded the SSC
building and army officials went in, retrieving papers and
binders of documents.
The SSC, run and paid for by the Interior Ministry, is much
better armed that the official police. The ministry has
repeatedly promised to disarm the militias but has yet to do
so, to the disgust of many Libyans.
"The government needs to find a solution for this security
mess," said resident Khaled Ahmed.
"It's been two years since the revolution and there is still
no security. They either need to find a solution or we take
to the streets again."
Apart from draining public finances, SSC members have been
accused of kidnappings and intimidation across the country.
For their part, the armed revolutionaries who fought the war
feel unrepresented by the elected civilian members.
About 2 km (1.2 miles) from the gun battle, members of the
General National Congress debated whether the new government
should be sworn in on Thursday and whether they should move
to a different city because of recurrent attacks on their
On Wednesday, security forces fended off protesters outside
the congress building as a cabinet line-up led by Prime
Minister Ali Zeidan was finally approved following Libya's
first free elections in July. Protesters said some of the
nominees had past links with the Gaddafi regime.
On Sunday, violence also erupted outside the capital.
A car bomb exploded in front of a police station in Benghazi,
injuring three police officers in the latest in a series of
attacks on security officials in Libya's second largest city,
where the U.S. ambassador was killed in September.
The front of the central Hadayeq police station was charred
and blackened with smoke. The entrance to the station was
destroyed, with glass strewn on the street and firefighters
putting out a fire engulfing a police car.
A Reuters photographer saw three policemen receive first aid
for minor injuries in front of the station. Officials at the
scene said there were no deaths.