Conflicting accounts as Bashagha comes under gunfire in Tripoli

The incident occurred as controversy continues over where to hold parliament’s plenary session for a vote of confidence on Libya’s transitional government.
Monday 22/02/2021
Interior Minister of the Tripoli-based UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha speaks after escaping an assassination attempt on him, in Tripoli,  February 21, 2021. REUTERS
Interior Minister of the Tripoli-based UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha speaks after escaping an assassination attempt on him, in Tripoli, February 21, 2021. (REUTERS)

TUNIS--There are conflicting accounts about an attack on the convoy of Fathi Bashagha, interior minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), on Sunday.

The incident occurred as controversy continues over where to hold parliament’s plenary session for a vote of confidence on Libya’s transitional government.

According to multiple Libyan sources, Bashagha’s convoy was attacked on Sunday evening by gunmen aboard a 4×4 vehicle. They targeted the convoy with bullets as it passed through the coastal region of Janzour, about 12km west of the centre of the capital, Tripoli.

The attack injured one of Bashagha’s guards, while one attacker was killed and two were arrested, according to a statement issued by the “Volcano of Anger” operation, formed in 2019 by militias and forces loyal to Sarraj’s government.

The statement said that the attackers were identified after two of them were arrested and the third who had been seriously injured during the clash “was dealt with,” without further details. The statement did not mention the identity or affiliation of the assailants.

Meanwhile, the Stability Support Apparatus, a Tripoli-based security agency set up last January under the authority of the prime minister, confirmed that there was a shooting between apparatus members and Bashagha’s guards, but blamed the interior ministry’s camp for instigating the violence.

In a statement, it said, “A vehicle belonging to the apparatus encountered a convoy belonging to the minister of interior. The minister’s guards immediately fired at the armoured vehicle belonging to the apparatus, killing a member of the apparatus, Radwan Al-Hangari, from the city of Zawiya, and injuring a fellow member.”

The statement added, “What happened was due to poor coordination and ill judgment on the part of the interior minister’s guards.”

It went on to say, “The Stability Support Apparatus denies any attempt to assassinate the minister, and we pledge to prosecute those involved in the shooting of its employees, according to the law and legislations in force.”

Observers say that an attack on Bashagha was expected given his many enemies and opponents.

They warned of the implications on the country’s overall political process at a time when attention is focused on Sirte, where it remains to be seen whether the Libyan parliament can hold a general session  to vote on granting confidence to the new government.

These concerns prompted US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland to express his country’s concern over the attack on Bashagha.

He called for a rapid investigation while forces were on alert in the majority of Tripoli districts, in particular the Ghout al-Shaal district, which witnessed heavy gunfire.

The dangerous development occurred while Libyan Parliament Spokesman Abdullah Belihaq announced the beginning of preparations to hold a parliamentary session in Sirte after the 5 + 5 military committee was tasked with ensuring security precautions in the city and confirmed the city was ready to host this session.

However, it is not yet confirmed that the parliamentary session will be held in the city, as deputy Abu Bakr Ba’irah said that MPs remain divided on the matter.

In a statement, he pointed out that in the Sabratha session, only 100 deputies attended. He chaired the session and asked them first to make sure there is a quorum.

He said that when the quorum was secured, “voices tried to stir up chaos and therefore I withdrew.”

“The Sirte meeting will not garner a quorum. This state of division will remain and the people will suffer from this chaos. This impede the work of the next government, which we consider a source of hope in the Libyan crisis.”

But he appealed to MPs in Sabratha to come to Sirte and attend the session during which the new government would be approved.

He added, “We do not want the Political Dialogue Forum to be a substitute for the house of representatives.”  He was referring to Committee of 75, which will vote on confidence for the new government should parliament fail to do so.

Faraj Abdulmalik, an MP from Sabratha, confirmed that the prospects of the parliamentary session being held in Sirte remain unclear.

He indicated that the session could be held in Sabratha with a full quorum met next Tuesday.

In television statements, he said that Sirte “is still not secure enough for the session” and stressed “the difficulty of several MPs attending.”

Meanwhile, head of the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee, Yousef Al-Aqouri, underlined the importance of granting confidence to the new national unity government, headed by Abdul Hamid al-Dabaiba, so as to enable it to carry out its work with no questions about its legitimacy.

He called on all MPs to heed the common good and cast aside personal differences in order to make sure the house of representatives accomplishes its mission, preserves the democratic process and capitalises on this opportunity to reach a historic consensus, which might be the last hope for the Libyan people to overcome their challenges to stability, unity and prosperity.