The Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia has declared Benghazi an ‘Islamic Emirate’ after claiming to have taken total control of Libya’s second largest city, seizing military barracks with rockets and ammunition.
The official spokesperson of the extremist group told local Radio Tawhid that “Benghazi has now become an Islamic emirate.”
The announcement has been denounced by pro-government militia forces.
“The national Libyan army is in control of Benghazi and only withdrew from certain positions for tactical reasons. The claim that Benghazi is under the control of militias is a lie,” Khalifa Haftar, a former army general, who launched a self-declared offensive against militants in May, told Al Arabiya channel.
Ansar al-Sharia formed during the Libyan Revolution of 2011 that ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi. The group is blamed for the attack on the US consulate in 2012 killing the US ambassador and 3 more Americans. The group advocates the implementation of strict Sharia law.
In some of the worst fighting since the revolution, around 200 people have been killed as violent clashes between rival militias erupted two weeks ago in the capital Tripoli and the city of Benghazi.
On Wednesday, the Islamic militants announced they overran an army base in Benghazi seizing dozens of weapons and boxes of ammunition. Libya’s Red Crescent said it had recovered the bodies of 35 soldiers from the base adding that there are presumably more.
At least 75 people, mostly soldiers, were killed in the two days of fighting in the eastern city, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, one hundred people have died in the battle for the airport, with 400 others believed to be wounded, the country’s health ministry announced on Saturday.
Over the past two weeks, rival militias have been fighting for the control of the airport in the southern part of the city. Zintan and Misrata militias have exchanged artillery fire and pounded the territory with Grad rockets.
Militia groups hit an oil storage tank with a rocket on Sunday night, causing a huge blaze which had been raging for over a day. Local firefighters couldn’t tackle the blaze as the interim government in Libya has called for international help.
As the chaos keeps spreading, UN Support Mission in Libya as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross have withdrawn their staff last week.
Foreign embassies have joined the missions evacuating its staff from the country. The UK has evacuated all “non-core” members of its diplomatic mission on Saturday after the mission’s cars were shelled at a militia checkpoint. The US embassy evacuated 150 of its personnel to bordering Tunisia.
Spain said on Thursday it was pulling its ambassador and embassy staff out of Libya temporarily, while one person was left to oversee the archives. Greece joined the same day saying it was sending vessels to Libya to evacuate embassy workers and a few hundred Chinese and European nationals.
Three years after the US and its NATO allies used air power to help the militants achieve victory over former leader Muammar Gaddafi, the country has descended into a failed state without cohesive government and rival militias fighting for power.