LNA claims capture of Portuguese ‘mercenary pilot’
TUNIS - A Portuguese “mercenary pilot” was captured by Libyan National Army (LNA) forces after they shot down his warplane south of Tripoli, the LNA’s media arm said.
According to witnesses, the man’s jet was downed in the town of Al-Hira, south of the capital, where the LNA continues to battle forces allied to Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA).
The LNA released photos of the bloodied pilot appearing to receive medical treatment while in custody. LNA Commander of Western Region Operations General Abdulsalam al-Hassi is seen in one of the photos.
Video footage posted on social media, which an LNA source told Reuters was authentic, shows the wounded pilot surrounded and being questioned by his captors. In one video, the pilot appears to give his name as “Jimmy Rees,” from Portugal. He claims to be working on a civilian contract to “destroy roads and bridges” and identifies his employer as a man named “Hadi.”
A spokesperson for the Portuguese Defence Ministry told Reuters the pilot was not a Portuguese soldier but could not confirm whether he was a Portuguese citizen.
The pilot’s capture adds to speculation that foreign fighters are increasingly active in Libya’s conflict, which plunged into a new round of violence when LNA forces advanced near Tripoli nearly five weeks ago.
The GNA has been accused of hiring mercenaries from Eritrea, Turkey and Ecuador to fight within its ranks, while the LNA faces accusations of bringing in Chadian and Sudanese fighters.
Last month, the LNA claimed to have shot down a fighter jet manned by an Ecuadorian mercenary fighting with the GNA.
The LNA has branded their advance on the capital as a battle to “liberate” Tripoli and accused rival forces of aligning with extremists.
“The battle is between the Libyan people and terrorist groups,” wrote LNA Spokesman Ahmed Mismari on Twitter April 28.