Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Amid fears of renewed violence … the Libyan Interior Minister has escaped an assassination attempt near Tripoli


On Sunday, influential Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha survived an assassination attempt near the capital, Tripoli, in an attack that raises fears of renewed violence in the midst of a political transition in a country witnessing power struggles between militias.

Fathi Bashagha is a minister in the Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj and headquartered in Tripoli, whose mandate ended with the election of a transitional executive authority.

Bashagha, 58, was appointed to head the Ministry of Interior in 2018, and has adopted an approach based on fighting corruption and engaging in proactive diplomacy. The minister also launched a campaign to reduce the influence of militias challenging the state, offering them to integrate into the armed forces after conducting training courses. The name Bashagha is in circulation to take over the Interior Ministry portfolio in the government that Abd al-Hamid Dabaiba is working on forming after he was appointed on February 5, as part of a political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations.

The minister’s convoy was hit by bullets fired by “three armed men from an armored four-wheel drive vehicle” while it was passing through the Janzour area, ten kilometers west of Tripoli, according to an officer in the Interior Ministry. “The guards of the convoy blocked the coastal road, and they exchanged fire with them, which resulted in damage to their car and the killing of an armed man, while two others were arrested,” the officer told France Press. He continued, “Minister Bashagha was not harmed, and one of the guards was injured and he is in good condition.” The officer explained that the minister was on his way back from a routine visit to the headquarters of a new security unit affiliated with his ministry.

For its part, the Ministry of Interior said that he was heading to his residence in Janzour. The source close to Bashagha said that the three attackers hailed from the city of Zawiya, 50 km west of Tripoli, and that the gunman who was killed was called Radwan Al-Hanqari.

An intense exchange of fire was clearly heard, which lasted for minutes on the coastal road of the city of Janzour at around 3:00 pm local time, followed by a lull, according to an AFP correspondent.

‘Abhorrent’ attack

The US Embassy in Libya condemned the assassination attempt, and said in a statement published in Arabic, “Ambassador Norland expressed the anger of the United States over the attack.” She indicated that Norland spoke with Bashagha by phone, and stressed that “Minister Bashagha’s focus on ending the influence of rogue militias enjoys our full support,” and called for “a speedy investigation to bring those responsible to justice.”

In turn, the French embassy condemned the attack, and said in a statement in Arabic, “The French embassy condemns the attack against the Minister of Interior (…) and we wish a speedy recovery for the injured from his protection team.”

For his part, the European Union’s ambassador to Libya, José Sabadell, called in a statement to “conduct a thorough investigation,” adding that “this abhorrent act should not affect the ongoing political process.”

Ten years after the uprising that toppled the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya is still experiencing power struggles exacerbated by foreign interference. Two authorities still exist in it: the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which is recognized by the United Nations, and a parallel government in the east of the country embodied by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Security fragility

On 23 October, the two parties to the conflict signed an “immediate” ceasefire agreement, following negotiations in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations.

A conference for political dialogue on February 5 elected a unified transitional authority consisting of a prime minister and a three-member presidential council that is supposed to lead the country until the general elections scheduled for December 2021.

However, the assassination attempt indicates the continued fragility of the security situation, and it came at a time of increasing hopes to overcome divisions and violence.

Libyans in Tripoli and other areas in the west of the country commemorated the tenth anniversary of the start of the revolution against Gaddafi on February 17th, but celebrations were absent from eastern regions, including Benghazi, the second largest city in the country and the cradle of the revolution.

External interference exacerbated divisions and violence. The Government of National Accord, which was formed following a UN mediation process in 2016, is supported by Turkey. Meanwhile, the authority Haftar embodies in the east of the country is supported by the UAE, Egypt and Russia.

As a result of the chaos, the Libyans are suffering from the deterioration of their living conditions, especially after the suspension of the export of oil, which is the main resource for the country, for several months. There is a shortage of liquidity, gasoline and prolonged power cuts, in addition to accelerating monetary inflation.



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