Rogue Libyan general's troops attack parliament to oust 'Islamists who protect terror groups'

  • General Khalifa Hifter has denied the attack is a coup
  • Parliament was pounded with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons
  • His soldiers are already fighting Islamists in Benghazi

By Sam Webb

Forces loyal to a rogue Libyan general attacked the country's parliament today, claiming they are targeting Islamist politicians who protect the extremist militias now plaguing the nation.

Lawmakers in Tripoli were forced to flee the attack, which was met with resistance from other troops, Mohammed al-Hegazi, a spokesman for General Khalifa Hifter, told Libya's al-Ahrar television station.

Gunfire near parliament could be heard for miles around.

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In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya. The death toll from fighting over the weeke...

In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya. The death toll from fighting over the weekend in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi between troops loyal to Hifter, a rogue general, and Islamist militias has risen to at least 70, the Health Ministry said on Sunday. In a statement late Saturday, Libya's interim prime minister, parliament speaker and the head of military warned Hifter against further pursuing his offensive and threatened the troops cooperating with him. (AP Photo/Mohammed el-Shaiky)

Smoke billowed from a distance over the parliament building, as witnesses said the attacking forces shelled the building from the southern edge of the city.

Al-Hegazi said Hifter blames the officials for allowing extremists forces to exert unrivalled influence in the country.


A security official said the attackers also shelled a nearby military base controlled by an Islamist militia. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists.

'This parliament is what supports these extremist Islamist entities,' al-Hegazi told the station. 'The aim was to arrest these Islamist bodies who wear the cloak of politics.'

Al-Hegazi said forces loyal to Hifter met resistance from militias he accused of 'holding the country hostage'. He called the parliament the 'heart of the crisis' in Libya.

Hifter is carrying out an offensive against Islamist militias in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city in the east. He says the central government and parliament have no mandate and vowed to press on with his operation after authorities called it a coup.

The country has struggled to implement an effective government since Gaddafi (pictured) was toppled in 2011

The country has struggled to implement an effective government since Gaddafi (pictured) was toppled in 2011

Since Hifter's offensive in Benghazi began on Friday, many of his supporters have pushed for him to take action in the capital, Tripoli, complaining about the ineffective government.

Lawmakers say security officials evacuated them from the building out of fears it would be stormed.

Libya's parliament is divided between Islamist and non-Islamist forces who have bickered over appointing a new government and holding new elections. Recently, Islamists forces backed the naming of a new prime minister, amid walkouts from the non-Islamist groups.


But splits in Libya are also regional and ethnic, with longstanding rivalries between the country's eastern and western regions. The new interim prime minister has not yet named a Cabinet.

A spokesman for the Libyan Revolution Operation Room, an umbrella group of militias groups who answer to the interim parliament and are in charge of the security in the capital, said fighters engaged the attackers but there were no reports of casualties.

Forces loyal to the interim parliament set up checkpoints around the parliament, sending journalists away.

An Associated Press journalist saw militias armed with machine-gun mounted vehicles gather near the parliament. The security official told the AP that lawmakers received warnings ahead of the attack that the building would be assaulted. Al-Ahrar reported the same.

The bases of the al-Qaaqaa and Sawaaq militias are located near the parliament. They both operate under the government's mandate but back non-Islamist political forces.

The fighting that broke out in Benghazi on Friday killed 70 people, Libya's Health Ministry said Sunday.

Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled Libya's late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, was quiet Sunday, though its airport remained closed for a second day.

Libya's weak central government describes the offensive by forces loyal to Hifter, which includes air support, as tantamount to a coup. The violence there and in the capital, Tripoli, shows how precarious government control remains three years after the 2011 civil war that toppled Gadhafi.

Libya's military banned flights Saturday to Benghazi and said in a statement that it would target any military aircraft flying over the city.

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