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.
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, notably offering training courses to militiamen who have agreed to join the police.
“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 and sound,” according to the ministry.
According to a member of the minister’s entourage, “two of the attackers were arrested, the third, Radwan Al-Hangari, succumbed to his injuries”. The three assailants are from Zawiya, 50 km from Tripoli, the same source told AFP.
An AFP journalist present near the scene heard an intense exchange of fire for a few minutes on the Janzour coastal road at around 3 p.m. local (GMT + 2). The police then closed this road for an hour. The residence of the Minister of the Interior is located in a tourist area of Janzour.
Mr. Bachagha, a heavyweight in local politics, was returning from a routine visit to the headquarters of a new security unit which reports to his ministry.
US Ambassador Richard Norland expressed “indignation” after the attack and in a telephone interview with the Libyan minister affirmed his country’s “full support” for Mr. Bachagha’s efforts to “put an end to to the influence of militias, “according to an embassy statement.
Ten years after the NATO-backed uprising that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, Libya is still undermined by power struggles, divided between two rival authorities, 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 rival camps had signed a permanent ceasefire agreement with “immediate effect”, after discussions in Geneva under the aegis of the UN.
On February 5, in addition to the interim Prime Minister, a three-member Transitional Presidential Council was appointed by a Libyan political forum in Switzerland, to ensure the transition pending elections announced for December.
But the assassination attempt served as a reminder that the security situation remains precarious, while a relaunch of political dialogue has revived hopes of an end to divisions and violence.
On February 17, Libyans celebrated in Tripoli and other parts of the west of the country the 10th anniversary of the start of the revolution that toppled Gaddafi in 2011.
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 animosity and violence. The GNA, installed in Tripoli in 2016 at the end of a fragile UN process, is supported by Turkey. His rival, a power embodied by Khalifa Haftar and established in Cyrenaica (East), is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
The Libyans are themselves impoverished, deprived in particular of income from the most important reserves of black gold in Africa. Their daily lives are punctuated by shortages of cash and gasoline, power cuts, with runaway inflation.
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