Dozens Killed in Airstrike on Military School in Libyan Capital

January 6, 2020 Updated: January 13, 2020
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At least 30 people have been killed in an attack on a military academy in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, as fighting over control of the city between rival armed groups escalates, Reuters reported.

Since the 2011 fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi (Gaddafi), Libya has been in chaos with two governments and different militia groups, including ISIS, vying for control.

A further 33 people were left wounded in the attack, which took place on Jan. 4, as cadets gathered on a parade ground at the Hadaba academy in a southern district of the capital, the health ministry of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli said on Sunday.

The majority of the victims were cadets from cities across the country aged between 18 and 22 who were left severely burned or “torn apart” during the attack, according to Al Jazeera.

Medical sources at public hospitals in the city said they had struggled to identify many of the bodies due to their acute injuries.

It is the latest in a string of airstrikes and shelling since the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by the anti-Islamist military commander and former general in al-Qaddafi’s army Khalifa Haftar, launched a ground and aerial offensive in April to take Tripoli.

The GNA in Tripoli blamed the airstrike on Hafter’s army, which is supported by the rival LNA administration based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

However, a spokesman for the LNA, Ahmed al-Mesmari, denied launching airstrikes on the military academy, and instead blamed the attack on Islamic extremist factions active in Tripoli and Misrata, including the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna, and the al-Qaeda-linked Libya Shield Force.

Neither side is yet to provide evidence to support their claims.

In a statement on Twitter, the U.N. Support Mission in Libya condemned the attack and warned that escalating military action “in this dangerous manner further complicates the situation in Libya and threatens opportunities to return to the political process.”

Meanwhile, the GNA’s Foreign Ministry called for Haftar and his aides to be referred to the International Criminal Court and tried on charges of committing alleged “crimes against humanity.”

It added that it will be calling for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the alleged crimes.

Violent clashes have escalated in Tripoli in recent weeks after Haftar declared a “final” offensive to seize the capital. It followed Tripoli authorities signing a military and maritime agreement with their ally Turkey calling for the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya. The GNA receives support from Qatar, Turkey, and Italy.

Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced on Jan. 5 that Turkish troops have begun deploying to Libya to support Fayez al-Serraj’s GNA.

Turkey’s parliament approved a bill on Thursday allowing for the deployment of troops in the country in a bid to protect Ankara’s interests in North Africa and the Mediterranean and to help achieve peace and stability in Libya.

He told CNN Turk on Sunday: “Our soldiers’ duty there is coordination. They will develop the operation center there. Our soldiers are gradually going right now.”

Erdogan also condemned the recent attack in Tripoli and called on the international community to take steps to achieve a ceasefire.

However, there are growing fears that Turkey’s involvement in Libya may serve to escalate fighting within the country.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement that President Donald Trump had warned Erdogan during a phone call just hours after the made the announcement that “foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya.”

Mohamed Aboelfadl wrote in a May op-ed for the The Arab Weekly that Tehran has seen political instability in Libya as an avenue for the expansion of its interests in the region, so far through cooperation with Turkey and Qatar. He alleged that Tehran alliances with extremist groups in Libya who sow chaos could escalate tensions to provide the regime an excuse to intervene. However, he added that international forces “that have been working tirelessly to undermine [Iran’s] presence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen” would continue to condemn such actions.