x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Tripoli rocked by car bomb attacks

First fatal blasts in Tripoli since the fall of Qaddafi a year ago.

The wreck of a bombed vehicle near the ministry of interior in Tripoli, the first bombing of its kind since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The wreck of a bombed vehicle near the ministry of interior in Tripoli, the first bombing of its kind since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

TUNIS // Two car bombs exploded in Tripoli in the early hours yesterday, killing two people. It was the first fatal bombing in the Libyan capital since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi a year ago.

An interior ministry building was the target of one attack, which wounded several people, said Omar Al Khadrawi, an undersecretary at the ministry.

The other, which caused the deaths, was outside a military academy in Omar Al Mukhtar Avenue in the city centre.

Mr Khadrawi blamed the "cowardly act" on Qaddafi loyalists seeking to destabilise the country and frighten people during Eid. But he said that security forces had the situation under control.

"I hold former regime aides fully responsible," he said as he visited one of the blast sites. He added that "the same kind of bombs and the same tactics and equipment" had been used in previously foiled car bombing attacks in Tripoli.

"For the past three days, we had information that such attacks could take place," he said. "But it is difficult to control everything because the country is awash with weapons."

Officials said a third car bomb was discovered, also near the ministry, and defused.

The bombings came on the eve of today's first anniversary of the fall of Tripoli to rebel forces who, with international backing, took control of the country after 42 years of Qaddafi's rule. The periodic violence that flared in the following months, mainly between rival militias, has ebbed since then.

After euphoric elections in July that passed off peacefully for the most part, an interim government is now in the process of choosing a new prime minister and establishing a system for writing a constitution for the country.

After a jubilant ceremony last week, Mohammed Magarief, a moderate Islamist and leader of the National Front party, was chosen as the speaker of the interim governing body. A prime minister looks set to be elected soon.

The smooth transition of power from the transitional body that led the country through the immediate post-Qaddafi period until the voting was hailed by analysts and international diplomats as the best possible start for a democratic Libya.

However, a series of violent incidents in recent weeks have threatened the security of the country, where people have called for stability to encourage foreign investors to return and the all-important oil industry to function normally.

Earlier this month, three men suspected of preparing bomb attacks were killed during a police raid near Tripoli but several more managed to flee, authorities said.

According to Tripoli's security chief, Col Mahmud Al Sherif, yesterday's attacks were believed to have been orchestrated by "the same sleeper cell", as the explosives and methods used were the same as in an attack in the capital on August 3 that wounded one person. "This group is funded by members of the old regime who are in Tunisia and Algeria," he added.

Assailants attacked members of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the city of Misurata earlier this month and the city of Benghazi in the preceding weeks, prompting the group to suspend its operations in those cities after their offices suffered "considerable damage", a spokesman said.

There has also been a spate of assassinations of senior army officials and local media have reported riots and gun battles at Fornaj prison in Tripoli.

Despite concerted efforts to transform the country's disparate militia groups into an effective police force and army, security is still shakily enforced, especially along the country's long borders.

Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, last month called the rebuilding of the security services a "momentous challenge".

Writing in Foreign Affairs, he said that co-opting militias had had limited success and that a focus for the next government should be training and building the national army and police.


* With additional reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse