Skip to main content

Libyan war over, but fighting continues among regional militias

By Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Wed November 2, 2011
NTC forces remove a tank from the Drua military base hit by NATO bombing during it's offensive to help rebel fighters oust Moammar Gadhafi
NTC forces remove a tank from the Drua military base hit by NATO bombing during it's offensive to help rebel fighters oust Moammar Gadhafi
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dozens of fighters clash at a Tripoli hospital this week
  • "Everyone is running their own group," a militia member says
  • Tripoli residents concerned about the rising tensions among the groups

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- The Libyan war may be over, but rivalries rage on among some regional militias, leading to a mutual distrust that poses a challenge to the new leadership.

Earlier this week, the rivalry was evident when dozens of fighters clashed at a Tripoli hospital in what residents said was the biggest armed confrontation in the capital in weeks.

Clashes erupted at 2 a.m. Monday when a half dozen former rebels from Zintan city in the western mountains stormed the hospital, according to doctors.

Some of the former rebels were drunk, and demanded staff hand over a wounded fighter shot earlier that day, according to the doctors, who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

Rasmussen: NATO airstrike campaign ends
Libya chooses acting prime minister
Aujali: UK, U.S. help to secure weapons
NATO mission in Libya ends

The patient and the body of a dead fighter had been taken to the hospital earlier, the doctors said, and the former rebels wanted to kill the wounded man.

Hospital staff declined to hand over the patient, who was undergoing surgery.

Tripoli fighters in charge of hospital security forced them out , but not before the returning fighters shot rounds in the hospital.

Both groups called for backup, which arrived as fighting raged around the hospital grounds until 5 a.m. Witnesses said both sides were using heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.

Walls near a hospital entrance were riddled with bullets holes, and nearby glass doors and windows were shattered. Across the street, bullets pierced through the walls of two buildings.

There were no deaths from gunshots, but medical staff said three patients died of stress-related causes that they linked to the fighting.

At least three of the Tripoli fighters were wounded in the clashes, according to Salem Abaza, who is in charge of hospital security. He described it as the most serious incident of infighting so far.

Accounts differed over how the three-hour battle concluded, but at least three witnesses said it ended after calls from a local imam and senior commanders from both groups talked by phone with their men.

Tripoli fighters said Tuesday they are concerned about the rising tensions among the various groups, which are increasingly divided along regional allegiances.

"We are concerned, as you can see, every day there is fighting between the rebels, this is something we don't want, we want a united Libya," said fighter Tammam Basheer.

The scene on Tripoli's streets these days -- heavily armed men brandishing guns and racing across the city with no central command and little or no accountability -- has raised concerns among residents.

"There are no security forces, everyone is running their own group, their own brigade, and they all control Tripoli," said Tripoli militia member Taha, who did not provide a second name.

Disarming tens of thousands of fighters who brought down ruler Moammar Gadhafi and bringing them under control is a top challenge for the fledgling interim government.

Acting Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib is expected to present his Cabinet within two weeks.

Military officials downplayed the tensions among the various militias, and say their biggest challenge is rebuilding the military.

"We would like to reorganize our army again," said Col. Ahmed Bani, the National Transitional Council's military spokesman. "When we have a great and strong army, we are safe. We will save our dreams, we will save our democracy, our borders."

At the Tripoli hospital, staff spoke of other recent incidents of intimidation by armed militiamen and called on authorities to provide protection and pull the weapons off the streets.

"We are really afraid, we do not want stethoscopes to be fighting guns," Dr. Ali Osman said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:36 PM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
Shortly after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi last September, a phone call was placed from the area.
updated 9:07 PM EST, Thu February 7, 2013
A testy exchange erupted between Sen. John McCain and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey during the latter's testimony about September's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
updated 9:16 AM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took on Republican congressional critics of her department's handling of the deadly September terrorist attack in Libya.
updated 8:22 PM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
The Pentagon released an hour-by-hour timeline of the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
updated 11:13 AM EST, Tue January 29, 2013
Bilal Bettamer wants to save Benghazi from those he calls "extremely dangerous people." But his campaign against the criminal and extremist groups that plague the city has put his life at risk.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Sun September 23, 2012
Two former Navy SEALs who died last week in an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya died after rushing to help their colleagues.
updated 10:24 PM EDT, Tue September 18, 2012
The former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK, Akbar Ahmed, explains why an anti-Islam film has triggered massive protests.
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
The fall of dictatorships does not guarantee the creation of free societies, says Ed Husain, author of "The Islamist."
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Tue September 25, 2012
Protests have swept the world following the online release of a film that depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer.
updated 6:56 PM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
A satirical magazine pours further oil on the fiery debate between freedom of expression and offensive provocation.
Was the attack on the Libyan U.S. Consulate the result of a mob gone awry, a planned terror attack or a combination of the two?
The images of the American embassy burning in Benghazi might have conjured up memories of Tehran in 1979 but the analogy is false.
updated 10:57 AM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
Libyan authorities have made more arrests in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate that left four Americans dead.
updated 7:59 PM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
Three days before the deadly attack in Benghazi, a local security official says he warned U.S. diplomats about deteriorating security.
For the latest news on developments in the Middle East and North Africa in Arabic.
ADVERTISEMENT