Notorious militia leader returns to ignite Libya conflict

Salah Badi, who spearheaded the capture of Tripoli in 2014, has returned from exile

Libyans security forces patrol on August 23, 2018 near the site of an attack on a checkpoint in the city of Zliten, 170 km east of the capital Tripoli. - An attack on a checkpoint between the Libyan capital and the town of Zliten killed four soldiers of the UN-backed unity government on today, the town's mayor said. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)
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Tripoli was plunged into more turmoil on Wednesday by fighting after the return of the notorious militia leader Salah Badi, who played a critical role in the 2014 clashes that devastated the Libyan capital.

It's unclear exactly when he returned from his base in Turkey, but a video released on Tuesday night showed Mr Badi calling for support to attack Tripoli. Inter-militia clashes have taken place since Sunday, but violence has surged in the wake of Mr Badi's return.

Pro-government brigades have been forced to defend the southern districts of the capital from the most recent militia offensive. Residents have fled their homes amid the use of heavy artillery and there were unconfirmed reports of air strikes against the militias fighting the government-supported brigades.

The violence pitted the capital’s most powerful group, the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB), and its allies known as the 301, Rada, the Abu Salim Brigade and the Nawassi, against the Badi-aligned Kani militia from the Tripoli suburb of Tarhouna.

The Kani had nominally been operating under the defence ministry, but the government has repudiated the faction since its emergence as an ally of Mr Badi.

Mr Badi and his fighters were one of the principal components of the coalition that captured Tripoli in 2014 and razed the capital’s airport to the ground. Known as Libya Dawn or "Fajr Libya", the various groups have now gradually been pushed out of the capital.

The Fajr groups are cited as one of the main causes of the instability that has ravaged Libya since the 2011 revolution. Mr Badi has mainly been based in Turkey since 2016 but was seen last week rallying support for a greater offensive on Tripoli on the outskirts of the city.

“We call every free man good in his heart to stand up until the capital is free from corruption,” Mr Badi said in a video on social media. “Those who remain now only have two options. Surrender or face their punishment. We will lift the distortion that has lasted since the (2011) revolution of February 17th,” he said.

“We will stand against those who cause humiliation to the people of the capital. Everyone who stands with the corrupt will be our opponent,” said Mr Badi.

Tripoli’s most powerful militia leader Haitham Tajouri and government security advisor Hashem Bishr headed back from Hajj in Saudi Arabia to lead operations against Mr Badi and the Kani Brigade.

“The weapon stores are open for Tripoli and its people to repel the aggression, no matter how long is the war,” said Mr Tajouri.

Sources said 11 people died and another 27 were injured in the clashes that broke out on Monday. After a brief lull in the fighting on Tuesday night, conflict resumed early on Wednesday with locals reporting the use to heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns.

The Libyan Red Crescent said it was moving families from their homes and opening field clinics for the injured in the violence.

Mr Badi is a figure who has divided opinion, having come to prominence as a key leader in the 2011 revolution that ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi. He has been accused of supporting extremist groups. As a senior commander in the Libya Dawn coalition, it was his troops' offensive that resulted in the 2014 destruction of Tripoli International Airport.

An MP for Misrata, a city considered Mr Badi's powerbase, accused the militia leader of allowing the rise of extremist Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya, in comments to The National. Many of Al-Sharia's fighters defected to ISIS when the group held 180 kilometres of Libya's coastline.

The pro-government Nawassi Brigade said four of their fighters died in the violence that hit Tripoli’s southern suburbs near to the disused international airport, destroyed by fighting in 2014.

UK ambassador to Libya, Frank Baker, said: “Very concerned by the clashes in Tripoli. We call on all parties to cease military action, protect civilians, respect international law and engage in dialogue to de-escalate the situation.”

The UN mission to Libya said it was “concerned by the use of indiscriminate fire and heavy weapons in densely populated residential areas, endangering civilian lives, and reminds all parties of their duty to protect civilians, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.”


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Meanwhile, the United States Africa Command (Africom) said an air strike on Tuesday killed an ISIS leader near the city of Bani Walid.

Taha Hadid, a spokesman for Libya's anti-ISIS operations room, told The National the victim was Walid Bu Hariba, a leading preacher for ISIS when it controlled the city of Sirte. Africom said the air strike targeted Bu Hariba's car in the Dahra district of Bani Walid.

Bu Hariba was from Sirte, where ISIS based its "caliphate" until its was ousted in December 2016. Militants have tried to regroup in the valleys and hills near to Bani Walid, 93 miles south of Tripoli.