Armed men aim their weapons from a vehicle as smoke rises
near the General National Congress in Tripoli.
Heavily armed gunmen have stormed Libya's parliament with
anti-aircraft weapons in an assault claimed by forces loyal to
a renegade ex-general who has vowed to purge the country of
In a confusing, chaotic attack, heavy smoke rose from the
parliament building in Tripoli as gunmen clashed with guards.
A Reuters reporter said the attackers raided and left, and
other unknown gunmen later closed off nearby streets.
Another witness said attackers had kidnapped two people and
heavy gunfire could be heard across other parts of Tripoli,
where rival brigades of former rebels have often clashed
since ending their 2011 war against Muammar Gaddafi.
Details of who carried out the parliament attack were
unclear, but a spokesman for retired Libyan general Khalifa
Haftar said his forces had carried out the assault as part of
his campaign to rid Libya of Islamist militants.
"These are members of the Libyan National Army," Mohamed
al-Hejazi, spokesman for the group said, using the name of
the irregular forces loyal to Haftar.
Haftar, a former rebel in the war against Gaddafi, had
already sent his fighters into Benghazi on Friday against
Islamist militants based there, claiming Libya's government
had failed to halt violence in the eastern city.
At least 40 people were killed in those clashes, which
involved some air force helicopters.
On Saturday, parliamentary speaker and military
commander-in-chief Nuri Abu Sahmain accused Haftar of trying
to stage a coup. Several reports said Sahmain had been
kidnapped after Sunday's attack, but he denied that.
After the 2011 NATO-backed war, Libya's weak government and
nascent army struggled to impose any authority over heavily
armed brigades and militias who once fought Gaddafi and have
become powerbrokers often challenging the state.
Libya's parliament has been paralysed by divisions between
Islamist parties and more nationalist rivals, leaving many
Libyans frustrated at the lack of progress toward democratic
transition since the fall of Gaddafi.
Militia brigades in armoured trucks mounted with
anti-aircraft canons have often stormed parliament, occupied
ministries and even kidnapped the prime minister last year in
a show of military muscle to make political demands.
But Sunday's attack on parliament was the most serious
violence in the capital for months, and appeared to expand
Haftar's campaign against hardline Islamists, who emerged as
a force in North Africa since the Arab Spring revolts of
Lawmaker Omar Bushah told Reuters that gunmen had stormed
into the General National Congress building, raiding
lawmakers' offices and set the building on fire.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties from
Haftar stirred rumours of a coup in February by appearing in
a Libyan military uniform to call for a presidential
committee to be formed to govern until new elections as a way
to end the country's political impasse.
It was unclear how much support Haftar has in the regular
armed forces or among the network of competing militias who
have carved out fiefdoms in parts of the country.
But in Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising against Gaddafi,
authorities have struggled to curb violence and stem attacks
blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group that Washington
labels as a terrorist organisation.
Since the end of Gaddafi's one-man rule, Libya's fragile
democracy has hobbled from crisis to crisis with the country
on its third prime minister since March, its new constitution
unwritten and parliament deadlocked by infighting.
Just hours before the attack, new Prime Minister Ahmed
Maiteeq announced he had formed a government pending
parliamentary approval this week, after the country went
nearly two months without a functioning government.
Complicating Libya's transition, the most powerful brigades
of former rebels -- such as the Zintans, the Misratans and
the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries -- have
loosely allied themselves competing political factions.
Former rebel commanders and protesters have also taken over
key oil ports and pipelines, cutting Libya's oil output to
200,000 barrels per day from 1.4 million bpd to demand more
autonomy and a greater share of oil wealth.