The Islamist-allied militia group in control of Libya’s capital has “secured” a US embassy residential compound there, more than a month after American personnel evacuated from the country over ongoing fighting, one of its commanders said on Sunday.
The move likely will reinvigorate debate in the US over its role in Libya, more than three years after supporting rebels who toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It also comes near the two-year anniversary of the death of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi.
An Associated Press journalist walked through the US embassy compound on Sunday after the Dawn of Libya, an umbrella group for Islamist militias, invited onlookers inside. Some windows had been broken, but it appeared most of the equipment at the compound remained untouched. The journalist saw treadmills, food, televisions and computers still inside.
A commander for the Dawn of Libya group, Moussa Abu-Zaqia, told the AP his forces had entered and been in control of the compound since last week, a day after it has seized control of the capital and its international airport after weeks of fighting with a rival militia. Abu-Zaqia said the rival militia was in the compound before his troops took it over.
The Dawn of Libya militia is not associated with the extremist militia Ansar al-Shariah, which Washington blames for the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012, which killed Stevens and the three other Americans.
On 26 July, US diplomats evacuated the compound and the capital to neighbouring Tunisia under a US military escort as fighting between rival militias intensified. The State Department said embassy operations would be suspended until the security situation improved. The fighting prompted diplomats and thousands of Tripoli residents to flee. Dozens were killed.
A video posted online surfaced on Sunday, showing men playing in a pool at the compound and jumping into it from the roof. Voice heard in the video identified it as the US embassy compound.
In a message on Twitter the US ambassador to Libya, Deborah Jones, said the video appeared to have been shot in at the embassy’s residential annex, though she said she couldn’t “say definitively” since she wasn’t there.
“To my knowledge & per recent photos the US embassy Tripoli chancery & compound is now being safeguarded and has not been ransacked,” she wrote on Twitter. She did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate. State Department officials in Washington also declined to immediately comment.
Tripoli is witnessing one of its worst spasms of violence since Gaddafi fell from power in 2011. The militias, many of which originate from rebel forces that fought Gaddafi, became powerful players in post-war Libya, filling a void left by weak police and a shattered army. Successive governments have put militias on their payroll in return for maintaining order, but rivalries over control and resources have led to fierce fighting among them and posed a constant challenge to the central government and a hoped-for transition to democracy.
Following weeks of fighting that brought the capital to a standstill, the Dawn of Libya said last week it managed to seize control of Tripoli’s airport and drive a rival militia from the mountain town of Zintan out of the capital. It is now deployed around the capital and has sought to restore normalcy in the city. The group called on foreign diplomats to return now that the fighting has subsided.