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Libya: New information on Tarhuna weapons seizure | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Rabat, Asharq Al-Awsat – Well-informed Libyan sources have revealed new details about the Libyan security forces’ seizure of 100 tanks and a supply of missiles from the Souk al-Ahad camp near the city of Tarhuna, southeast of the capital Tripoli, approximately two weeks ago.

The sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the statement released by the Libyan Interior Ministry regarding these weapons was not accurate; pointing out that the discrepancy was linked to conflicts among political forces in Libya.

They indicated that the tanks found in the camp were undergoing maintenance and repairs. According to the sources, the sheer quantity of the tanks, a hundred of them in total, confirms this assertion. They added that the tanks were brought from various parts of Libya for repair and maintenance in Souk al-Ahad. A militia group known as Katibat al-Awfiya, led by Colonel Abu Ajela al-Habashi, whose members hail from the Tarhuna region, was tasked with supervising the camp. However, in recent months this militia group has voiced its opposition to the Libyan authorities, warning against the Islamists seeking to expand their influence and dominating certain sensitive joints in Libya. Mohammed Magarief, the new president of the Libyan National Assembly (parliament), who was elected to his post by a small majority – winning 113 votes compared to his rival’s 85, is said to be sympathetic towards the Islamists’ endeavors. Likewise, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, also adopts a pro-Islamist orientation.

The sources revealed that Colonel al-Habashi currently enjoys close ties with Major General Khalifa Haftar, who was supposed to assume the post of Commander of the Libyan Army after the victory of the revolution. However, Major General Yousef al-Manqoush was instead chosen for the post, prompting Haftar to again return to his voluntary exile in the United States.

Major General Haftar previously defected from Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in the 1980s during the war in Chad, where he was leading the Libyan forces, and subsequently declared his rebellion. Following the eruption of the Libyan revolution, he returned to join the revolutionaries and led several battalions that fought against Gaddafi’s forces. Haftar is a member of the al-Furjan tribe, which is based in the Tarhuna area, where Colonel al-Habashi also hails from.

Colonel al-Habashi was imprisoned for years during Gaddafi’s era because he took part in a thwarted coup attempt in 1993, known as the Warfalla coup, named after the tribe of the same name. Colonel Gaddafi was later successful in bringing this tribe closer to him, and it formed a powerful security apparatus and intelligence organ.

The official account of the Tarhuna weapons seizure announced by the Libyan Interior Ministry claims that when the security forces stormed the Tarhuna camp, they seized 30 rockets in addition to the tanks. The Interior Ministry subsequently linked Katibat al-Awfiya, the group in charge of the camp, to the simultaneous explosions of two vehicles in Tripoli in August. The first blast left two people dead and five others wounded. The first vehicle exploded near the former military academy for women, while the second vehicle exploded near the Interior Ministry building.

The Interior Ministry’s statement regarding the seizure of tanks and rockets was issued at a news conference held by Abdelmonem al-Hur, spokesman for the ministry’s High Security Committee. He said that one person was killed and others were wounded, without specifying any numbers, as the security forces stormed the Tarhuna Camp. He also said that 13 people, including the commander of the group, were captured, noting that three members fled to unidentified locations. There are conflicting official reports about the identity of the group in possession of these tanks and rockets, and official sources have given several contradictory stories. Al-Hur simply remarked: “We believed the Katibat defended Libya and the revolution, but it turned out to be contrary.”