Libyan Army official tells Arab paper that militias captured chemical weapons

Islamic State fighters said they were behind attacks on the residence of the Iranian ambassador in Tripoli and the eastern Labraq airport, a group statement on twitter said on Sunday.

By REUTERS
February 22, 2015 17:01
3 minute read.
Libyan Army Forces.

Libyan Army Forces.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Militias in Libya have captured chemical weapons from storage areas in southern and central parts of the country, the Arab media reported on Saturday.

“Unfortunately [chemical weapons] exist in locations known to the militias, who have seized large amounts of them to use in their war against the [Libyan] army,” a Libyan military official told the London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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The former regime of Muammar Gaddafi had held the chemical weapons and the official warned that Islamic State could obtain the chemicals, which include mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin.

“Before his death, Gaddafi left approximately one thousand cubic tons worth of material used for manufacturing chemical weapons and about 20,000 cubic tons of mustard gas,” added the military official.

In addition, Asharq al-Awsat obtained a video of what seemed to be fighters testing the chemical weapons in a mountainous area near the town of Mizda, 100 miles south of Tripoli. The video shows the firing of a projectile which produced fire and dense white smoke.

Locals told the Arab newspaper that an armed group that was guarding a chemical factory in Jufra District, 370 miles (600 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, transferred some of the mustard gas to the Mediterranean city of Misrata.

Meanwhile, Islamic State fighters said they were behind attacks on the residence of the Iranian ambassador in Tripoli and the eastern Labraq airport, a group statement on twitter said on Sunday.

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Two bombs detonated in front of the residency of the Iranian ambassador in Tripoli on Sunday, while rockets were fired on Labraq airport overnight Friday into Saturday. Nobody was hurt in either attack.

Iran's official IRNA news agency confirmed the blasts and that there had been no casualties, adding that Iran had previously suspended operations at its embassy.

Most Western nations and the United Nations moved out their staff last year during fighting between rival factions vying for control of Tripoli, four years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Growing frustration over the reality of life in eastern Libya, which contrasts with the promises of politicians, is feeding support for a former army general, Khalifa Haftar, who has set himself up as a warrior against Islamist militancy and who some also see as their savior.

The internationally recognized prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni, and his government sit in Bayda, while a rival Islamist faction, Libya Dawn, has set up its own government in Tripoli, 1,200 km away, after taking over the capital last summer.

Haftar, who has merged his own troops with regular army forces to fight Islamist militants, is styling himself as a would-be strongman in the east.

But while his fighters have won back some territory from Islamists in Benghazi, Haftar is proving a divisive figure among those around Thinni, the parliament, and a federalist movement demanding autonomy for the east.

Thinni is in a weak position, even in his seat at Bayda, a town in the Green Mountains of eastern Libya. It is packed with people who have fled Tripoli complaining of threats or attacks from Libya Dawn.

"The situation not stable," said a soldier at a checkpoint near Thinni's office. Some 50 protesters have showed up several times to demand Thinni's resignation. His scared staff left their posts on one occasion.

"I don't like Haftar. But only he as a military man, and a military council, can save Libya," said a protester who gave his name as Abdelaziz.

A Libyan entrepreneur dismissed the protesters as "thugs paid by the new Gaddafi, Haftar." Having no ministries, Thinni's team work out of hotels or rented villas. They claim to be in contact with Tripoli-based state bodies but power cuts in Bayda make it almost impossible to make calls.

Thinni's economy ministry said it had released strategic wheat reserves in response to a flour crisis. But the chairman of a Tripoli-based state fund in charge of allocating wheat said he was not aware of any such statement.

"We have a crisis committee in place," said economy minister Asr when asked how basic services will be restored.

He acknowledged difficulties but said Libya had a bright future as an investment destination

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