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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 28 February 2021

Libya's interior minister escapes assassination attempt

Shooting at Fathi Bashagha's convoy came days after 10-year anniversary of Qaddafi's overthrow

The powerful interior minister of Libya's Tripoli-based government survived an assassination attempt on Sunday, he said, sparking fears of violence despite UN-led peace efforts.

Fathi Bashagha said that a vehicle started encroaching on his convoy and people inside the vehicle opened fire, leading to an exchange of fire in which one of his guards and one of the attackers were killed.

"It is not an incident that came by chance, but was well-planned," Mr Bashagha told Reuters.

His guards pursued the vehicle and it overturned, he said, adding that they arrested two people, one of whom was wanted by police.

The Stabilisation Support Apparatus, an armed force set up by outgoing Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj this year, said in a statement posted online that Bashagha's guards had opened fire on one of its vehicles as it passed his convoy.

Mr Bashagha, 58, a champion of anti-corruption efforts, has stepped up efforts in recent months to absorb armed groups into state security forces, while trying to rein in those acting outside the state, in a campaign rejected by some groups.

He has been interior minister for the GNA since 2018 and had been a favourite to lead a new interim government under UN-led peace efforts after an October ceasefire last year.

The post went to businessman Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, 61, an engineer who has called for reconstruction, democracy and reunification in Libya.

Libya has been riven by violence since a 2011 Nato-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Two rival administrations, backed by militias, have battled for control of the oil-rich country.

Tripoli forces last summer repelled a year-long offensive by eastern military chief Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to seize the capital from the GNA and the militias it employed to defend it.

Then a UN-backed ceasefire set the stage for talks aimed at reaching a political solution to a decade of conflict.

Mr Dbeibah and a three-member presidency council, elected by UN-selected delegates at talks in Switzerland on February 5, are to lead the country towards elections set for December 24.

But while some have voiced hopes for meaningful peace talks, the attempt on Mr Bashagha's life was a stark reminder of Libya's precarious security situation.

The UN's special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, said the "reckless" incident was aimed at "derailing the political process" and threatened the stability and security of the country.

The incident "once again proves how important it is to keep all the arms only in the hands of the legitimate authorities", he said.

The EU's ambassador to Libya, Jose Sabadell, demanded a full investigation.

"This hateful action must not affect ongoing political process," Mr Sabadell tweeted.

Italy urged "all Libyan actors to refrain from any action that would jeopardise the path towards the stabilisation of Libya".

The US embassy in Tripoli voiced "outrage" and said Mr Bashagha's "focus on ending the influence of rogue militias has our full support".

The shooting came just days after Libyans marked the 10-year anniversary of Qaddafi's overthrow.

Updated: February 22, 2021 11:08 AM

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