TRIPOLI // Libyan militiamen aligned to the Defence Ministry shelled the former Qaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid on Sunday, extending a feud between two towns that demonstrates the country's deep divisions a year after the veteran leader was killed.
Militias, many of whom are from Misrata, have been shelling the hilltop town of 70,000 people for several days. Libyan state news agency LANA said late on Saturday 14 people had been killed and 200 injured in the fighting.
Libya's new rulers have led the nation to elections but have struggled to impose their authority on a country awash with weapons. Underscoring the chaos and confusion were conflicting reports over the fate of Qaddafi's former spokesman and his son.
"The attacks are continuing," Bani Walid militia leader Abdelkarim Ghomaid said by phone. "The shelling is coming from all sides."
He said Bani Walid fighters had captured 16 cars belonging to militias from Misrata. This could not be immediately independently verified.
While Misrata spent weeks under siege by Qaddafi forces in last year's war, Bani Walid was one of the towns that remained loyal to Qaddafi longest. It remains isolated from the rest of Libya and former rebels say it still harbours pockets of support for the old government.
Misrata was enraged by the death of rebel Omran Shaban after two months in detention in Bani Walid. Shaban, from Misrata, was the man who found Qaddafi hiding in a drain pipe in Sirte on October 20, 2011.
Libya's congress ordered the defence and interior ministries to find those responsible for abducting Shaban and suspected of torturing him. It gave Bani Walid a deadline to hand them over.
"Fighting is continuing today. There is smoke rising over certain parts of the city," one Bani Walid resident said by phone. Hundreds of families fled the fighting in Bani Walid to Tarhouna, some 80 kilometres away in the last two days.
A statement from the prime minister's office on Saturday said militias had captured former Gaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim in Tarhouna.
However, in an audio clip posted on Facebook, a person purporting to be Ibrahim, who held regular news conferences in Tripoli during last year's war, dismissed news of his arrest.
There was no independent verification of the authenticity or timing of the Facebook post, dated October 20.
Some officials said Qaddafi's son, Khamis, had been captured in Bani Walid and died after being taken to Misrata, however there was no official written statement from the government on this, as with previous captures of former regime figures.
On Sunday, deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur said on his official Twitter account the announcement of Ibrahim's arrest and Khamis's death was made without confirmation of the news.
No photographs of either Ibrahim or Khamis in detention surfaced after the reports. The government has previously made false allegations regarding the capture of Qaddafi loyalists.
Khamis was reported dead on at least three separate occasions during last year's conflict. A Syrian-based television station that supported Qaddafi said he had been killed in fighting southeast of Tripoli on August 29, 2011.