Libyan Authorities Retake Control of Airport From Disgruntled Militia

Posted June 5th, 2012 at 3:50 am (UTC-5)
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The Libyan government says it has retaken control of Tripoli's international airport after disgruntled militiamen from a central region stormed the runway to protest the disappearance of their leader.

Libyan officials say pro-government militias initially responded to the airport seizure, disarming some of the assailants and forcing others to flee before handing control of the site to state security forces late Monday.

Dozens of gunmen from the Libyan town of Tarhouna had taken over the airport earlier in the day, driving armored vehicles onto the tarmac, surrounding foreign airliners to prevent them from departing and forcing passengers to leave the planes. All flights at the airport were suspended. It was unclear how much damage the airport had sustained in the assault or when it would re-open.

The gunmen said they raided the airport to pressure Libya's ruling National Transitional Council to explain the whereabouts of their commander Abu Ajila al-Habshi. Some accused Tripoli authorities of detaining al-Habshi on Sunday.

Libya's state-run LANA news agency said the NTC condemned both the storming of the airport and what it called the abduction of al-Habshi. It said Libyan authorities were searching for the missing militia leader.

Libya has been plagued by confrontations between rival militias since many of them united to overthrow autocratic leader Moammar Gadhafi last year. Many militiamen have refused to lay down their weapons or become fully integrated into Libya's security forces.

The unrest at Tripoli's airport comes two weeks before Libya holds its first free national elections since Gadhafi seized power in a 1969 coup. Libyans are set to vote on June 19 for a 200-member assembly to write a new constitution and form a government.