Islamists win support for control of Tripoli international airport
TRIPOLI - Powerful militias from the city of Misrata announced their support Thursday for Islamists in their battle against another armed group for control of the Libyan capital's international airport.
The fighting erupted on Sunday when Islamist gunmen launched an attack on the airport, which has for the past three years been held by liberal, anti-Islamist fighters from Zintan, southwest of the capital.
Ex-rebel fighters from Zintan and Misrata, east of Tripoli, both played a key role in the NATO-backed uprising that topple dictator Moamer Gathafi in 2011.
But they have become fierce rivals in the deadly power struggle between armed groups that followed and which is now wracking the North African country.
There have been fierce clashes at the airport, which has been shut down indefinitely, with dozens of planes and the main terminal badly damaged by rocket fire.
Leaders of the Misrata militias, in a statement broadcast on local television, described the assault on the airport as "a battle by the revolutionaries" against pro-Gathafi elements.
Although the situation appeared calmer on Thursday, the streets around the facility were largely empty.
On Sunday, officials said a security guard was killed and six people wounded in the fighting, but no casualty toll has been announced since.
The Misrata announcement has revived fears of the conflict spreading inside Tripoli itself, with official results still awaited from a June 25 election to the Islamist-dominated parliament.
Analysts say liberals are poised to fill most seats in the new parliament, and that the battle for the airport reflects the Islamists' struggle for influence by other means.
Islamist militias accuse ex-rebels from Zintan of harbouring in their ranks soldiers and army officers who served under Gathafi.
Misrata leaders have also condemned a government statement that it was considering seeking international help to restore security in the increasingly lawless state.
Successive interim administrations have struggled to establish a strong army and police force, giving former rebel groups a free hand.