Hundreds of armed militas fought each other at a hospital in Tripoli early on Monday, in the biggest armed clash between allies since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
9:00PM GMT 31 Oct 2011
The fighting fuelled growing fears that nobody is in control of thousands of swaggering armed men who are still based in Tripoli and that the country’s interim government will struggle to impose law and order.
Two people died from bullet wounds and at least seven fighters were injured during a battle that started when militia from the town of Zintan were stopped by guards from the Tripoli Brigade from entering the city’s Central Hospital to kill a patient.
The hospital front door and entrance hall were afterwards left pocked with bullets, doctors and patients had to flee the building and two elderly patients died of heart attacks during the shooting, which lasted from about 1am until dawn. Heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns were used by both factions, supposed allies who in reality nurse a dangerous rivalry.
The shoot-out started when a group of gunmen arrived at the hospital in search of a man they had shot earlier in the night. Witnesses said the gunmen were drunk, and had come to finish the man off after learning that he had survived and been taken for medical treatment.
Doctors asked them to leave, at which point one of them pulled out a pistol and began shooting.
“He was overpowered, but then hundreds of Zintan men arrived outside the hospital with heavy weapons and shooting started,” said Mohamad Hamza, a Tripoli Brigade fighter in charge of security. “We had to call for backup, and our boys came from all over Tripoli.
“We couldn’t believe that they were shooting at us. I had to say to them, you are shooting at a hospital, not at Muammar Gaddafi’s 32nd Brigade. Eventually, after several hours, a Shaikh came from the mosque and persuaded them to stop and they handed over three of them who started it to Tripoli’s military council.”
He said one Zintan fighter and a passer-by were killed in shooting, and seven Tripoli Brigade men were injured, two seriously. He said he believed Zintan injured were taken to other hospitals.
The incident will raise pressure on the fragile National Transitional Council to disarm the former rebel fighters who are still at large in Libya’s capital, even though they were asked to leave weeks ago and have been ordered to give up their heavy weapons.
The Zintan brigades were some of the most ferocious fighters against Gaddafi’s forces and helped lead the attack on Tripoli, but have outstayed their welcome, earning a reputation for mayhem and looting.