The powerful Libyan Interior Minister, Fathi Bachagha, emerged unscathed from an assassination attempt near Tripoli on Sunday, raising fears of a resumption of violence in the midst of an effort for a political transition in a country undermined by struggles for influence and the weight of the militias.
“The GNA Interior Minister, Fathi Bachagha, was the target of an assassination attempt on Sunday at 3 p.m. while he was returning to his residence in Janzour”, a town located about ten kilometers from Tripoli, the ministry said in a statement.
“An armored vehicle (…) opened fire on the convoy with machine guns and the ministry’s protection officers responded by opening fire on the attackers”, adds the text.
“One of his guards was injured” but “the minister is safe,” the ministry said.
Mr. Bachagha is part of the Government of National Unity (GNA) outgoing Fayez al-Sarraj, based in Tripoli and recognized by the UN. He was strongly tipped for the post of interim prime minister, finally returned on February 5 to Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, as part of a political process sponsored by the UN.
Appointed Minister of the Interior in 2018, this 58-year-old cacique has made the fight against corruption his battle horse. He is also leading a campaign to reduce the influence of militias who resist state authority, in particular offering training courses to militiamen who have agreed to join the police.
– “Odious act” –
According to a member of the minister’s entourage, “two of the attackers were arrested, the third, Radwan Al-Hangari, succumbed to his injuries”. All are from Zawiya, 50 km from Tripoli, the same source told AFP.
They are part of the “organ of support for stability”, a security apparatus created in January by Mr. Sarraj.
An AFP journalist present near the scene heard an intense exchange of fire for a few minutes on the coastal road to Janzour around 3:00 p.m. local time.
Mr. Bachagha, heavyweight in local politics, was returning from a visit to the headquarters of a new security unit which depends on his ministry.
UN envoy to Libya Jan Kubis expressed “grave concern”, saying such acts “threaten stability and security and aim to derail the political process” in Libya.
“France condemns the attack on Minister Fathi Bachagha and wishes a speedy recovery to its staff affected,” tweeted its embassy in Libya, relocated to Tunis.
“This heinous act must not affect the ongoing political process,” commented the European Union’s Ambassador to Libya, Jose Sabadell.
Italy called on “all Libyan actors to refrain from any action compromising the stabilization of Libya”.
US Ambassador Richard Norland had previously said in a telephone interview with the minister his country’s “full support” for Mr. Bachagha’s efforts to “put an end to the influence of the militias.”
– Precarious security –
Ten years after the uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, two rival authorities are vying for power in Libya against a backdrop of foreign interference. The GNA in Tripoli and parallel authorities in the east linked to strongman Khalifa Haftar.
On October 23, the two camps signed a permanent ceasefire with “immediate effect”, after discussions in Geneva under the aegis of the UN. And on February 5, in addition to the interim Prime Minister, a transitional presidential council was appointed pending elections announced for December.
But the assassination attempt served as a reminder that the security situation remains precarious.
On February 17, Libyans celebrated the 10th anniversary of the start of the revolution that overthrew Gaddafi.
The authorities in the east, a region controlled by Marshal Haftar, held no celebrations, not even in Benghazi, the cradle of the revolution and the country’s second city.
Foreign interference has helped fuel the violence. The GNA, installed in Tripoli in 2016 at the end of a fragile UN process, is supported by Turkey. The rival power, established in Cyrenaica (East), is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
The Libyans are impoverished, deprived in particular of income from the most important black gold reserves in Africa. Their daily lives are punctuated by shortages of cash and gasoline, power cuts, with runaway inflation.
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