Tripoli International Airport suspended operations today after two rockets exploded on the main runway, causing minor damage. No casualties have been reported. The blasts occurred at 5 am local time, before the airport had begun their inbound or outbound traffic services.
The cause of the rocket fire was unknown and no group has taken responsibility, however since the civil war that resulted in the death of Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya’s security has considerably deteriorated. Several of the armed militias formed during the civil war have remained in place. Some militias have become members of Libya’s security forces; others have remained to protect their own aims or territories, despite the government’s attempts to disband them. Often, these militia groups clash with one another, resulting in violence and civil disruption.
Al Zintan militia, a group of nearly 4,000 ex-rebels, have been providing security for the international airport since October 2011. Al-Zintan are most well-known for their current detention of Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam. The militia have been known to have rivalries with militias in Eastern Libya.
Eastern Libya itself has become a haven for armed militia groups who are currently at odds with the Tripoli government. In June 2013, the Cyrenaica Transitional Council (CTC) issued a declaration of autonomy for the eastern Libyan region. Earlier in March, the group attempted to provide Libyan oil to a North Korean vessel without the permission of the Tripoli government. The vessel was captured by the US Navy SEALs on 17 March.
On Thursday, 20 March, Libya’s government announced that it would mobilise security forces to address the terrorist groups that have been responsible for a large number of attacks, kidnapping, and violence, particularly against security services and foreigners.
The Tripoli International Airport partially opened earlier today, using the old north-south runway while the main runway remained closed for maintenance, now complete. However, many flights, including those of Air Malta, Tunis Air, Alitalia and Lufthansa, had already been cancelled due to confusion as to when the airport would reopen. Further, other flights have been cancelled because fearful passengers have not turned up, and a lack of staff after they were sent home in the morning.
It is expected that the airport will restart normal services tomorrow (22 March).