Escalating clashes between militia groups near Tripoli have killed several fighters over three days, amid growing concerns about rivalries between the heavily armed rebels who control overlapping areas in and around the Libyan capital.
“There is a big fight now, a new front,” said a fighter from the western city of Zawiyah, who was positioning a rocket on a flatbed truck at the side of the main road 16 miles west of Tripoli. “We are fighting the Wershifanna tribe. There are remnants of Gaddafi people among them.”
More than 100 other fighters from Zawiyah were manning checkpoints and loading up trucks with heavy weaponry before heading to the Hashan area, about a mile away, where the Wershifanna tribal fighters are the dominant force. Some said they believed ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi’s favored son Saif al-Islam was hiding in the area.
Khalid Qessab, a Zawiyah militia commander, said that three fighters under his command had died in battles that began on Saturday morning and two the previous day. Local leaders said that at least three fighters died on Thursday.
The fighting was the most recent in a string of deadly confrontations among those who fought to overthrow Gaddafi’s government and still have ready access to weapons. In Tripoli, where the police force is not fully functioning, brigades from a variety of tribes and regions control different parts of the city.
Violence broke out two weeks ago when fighters from the city of Misurata and the mountain town of Zintan attempted to settle old scores at Tripoli’s central hospital. There have also been at least three shootouts between a local Tripoli brigade in the upmarket Hay al-Andalus district and a group of Zintanis who have taken up residence in the plush Regatta compound where Gaddafi’s cronies used to live.
“As far as we know, most of the problems with the Zintanis are with young, drunk men,” said Khaled al-Shimani, at the Hay al-Andalus headquarters. “But these problems start small and get big.” “I am now less confident that everyone is on the same mission,” said one Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There are Misuratans, the Tripoli brigades and Zintanis in Tripoli.
(In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post)