Weekly Security Update by SNE Special Projects 29 July 2014

Tripoli

On July 26, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli temporarily suspended all operations due to the continued deterioration of the security environment in Libya. The U.S. Department of State also released an updated Travel Warning, advising U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommending that those currently in Libya depart immediately. This announcement follows months of escalating conflict between rival militias, which spilled over into a battle for control of Tripoli International Airport (TIP) in mid-July. Ongoing clashes at the airport have resulted in dozens of deaths, and have complicated evacuation options for OSAC constituents operating in Libya. U.S. citizens travelling to or remaining in Libya despite the latest Travel Warning should use caution and limit nonessential travel within the country, make their own contingency emergency plans, and maintain awareness at all times. The recent conflict in Tripoli has led to some of the most intense fighting seen in the capital since 2011, while fighting related to General Khalifa Hifter’s anti-Islamist “Operation Dignity” has escalated over the past week. While the conflicts in the two cities appear separate, they are actually closely related, as both are culminations of an ongoing power struggle between Islamist and anti Islamists in Libya. As such, the already scant influence of the interim government has diminished further on 24 July, interim Prime Minister Abdullah al Thinni was prevented from boarding a government plane at Mitiga Airport to travel to Tobruk leading to concerns that the formation and convening of the recently elected House of Representatives will not be possible. Even if the new parliament is able to convene, there are no guarantees that it will be able to assert influence in the face of worsening conflict. While there has been little talk of international intervention, there have been rumours that Libyan airspace will be imminently closed, leading to speculation that intervention is possible. Fighting centred around Tripoli International Airport between Zintan based militias and a coalition of Islamist aligned militias continues to wreak havoc across the city, as thousands of Tripoli residents have fled their homes in response to the conflict. Early on 28 July, a petrol storage tanker at the Brega Petroleum Company’s storage depot was set on fire after being hit by a shell. While the petrol tankers are fitted with safety mechanisms which should prevent explosion, fire fighters who had been attempting to combat the fire were reportedly forced to withdraw after running out of water. The National Oil Company (NOC) advised residents living within a six kilometre radius of the depot to evacuate, while the Ministry of Oil reportedly requested that nearby countries including Italy and Malta send assistance by air.  Intense clashes have continued on a daily basis across the city, the districts worst affected by the fighting thus far have been, Qasr bin Ghashir, Abu Salim, Hay al Akhwakh, Salahedeen, and Janzour. The attacking “Libya Dawn” coalition has thus far been unable to achieve its goal of dislodging the Zintan based Qaaqaa and Sawaiq Brigades from the airport, meaning that fierce clashes are expected to continue at this vital location. The fighting in Tripoli is increasingly missile- based, as both sides of the dispute have consolidated their positions, and are thus attacking each other from further and further away. This has meant the area affected by the clashes have grown, as well as decreasing the accuracy of the attacks, rendering collateral damage more likely. Thus, Qasr bin Ghashir and locations along Airport Road are also expected to continue to suffer some of the worst effects of the clashes.  The Libyan Government requests international help in extinguishing fire at Brega oil storage facility in Tripoli. According to the Director of the Tripoli Security Directorate, there is concern that the fire at the facility, which broke out on Monday after the facility was struck with shelling, could spread and cause the storage tanks to explode, potentially resulting in severe damage to the surrounding area. The storage facility is located on Tripoli Airport Rd, just to the east of the intersection with Walli Ahad Street. Many countries have reportedly responded to the request, offering to send plans and firefighting teams with special equipment. In addition, the Libyan government has warned the rival militias currently fighting in Tripoli that armed clashes in the area would prevent the firefighting teams from arriving on the scene and extinguishing the fire. The Brega facility reportedly contains some 90 million litres of gasoline.  A local national carjacked by gunmen in two white sedans in Hai Alandalus, Tripoli Saturday morning just before 10am. The gunmen in the two white Sedans reportedly blocked the local national’s car and then opened fire on him with semi-automatic weapons, injuring him in the arm before making off with his vehicle. Crime is on the rise especially in Tripoli during the current turbulent situation and clients are advised to make essential moves only and no movements after dark hours.

Benghazi General

Intense fighting related to “Operation Dignity” in Benghazi has also worsened considerably over the past week, as a call for reinforcements from Saiqa Special Forces Commander Wanis Bukhmada was responded to by back-up from Ajdabiya, Tobruk and al Bayda on 23 July. Among the reinforcements were reportedly troops from the Cyrenaica Defence Force (CDF), which is led by Ibrahim Jadhran. While air strikes have continued in the southern districts, including Hawari, Guwarsha, Garyounes and Sidi Faraj, the past week has seen intense fighting in the more central Bu Atni and Laithi districts, as militants have sought to target Saiqa Special Forces bases in the areas. Residents have reported hearing ongoing clashes in the Bu Atni district early on 28 July despite claims that a ceasefire truce had been brokered for the period of celebration for Eid al Fitr, which began today the 28 July and is set to continue for three days. Residents of Bu Atni and Laithi have been advised to evacuate as soon as possible, but it is not clear how many have received the advice or have been able to carry out the instruction.  Casualty figures among those engaging in the fighting are unknown, but are expected to be high, as clashes have been intense, and there have been reports of a number of prominent Ansar al Sharia members including Ahmed al Zahawi, the brother of Ansar al Sharia emir Mohamed al Zahawi were killed during fighting with Saiqa Special Forces. The 17 February Martyrs’ Brigade, which has been fighting alongside Ansar al Sharia, stated that six of its members were killed.   Despite the reinforcements that arrived in Benghazi to back up “Operation Dignity” forces, and despite the intensity of clashes throughout the weekend, there does not appear to have been much change “on the ground” as daily fighting has not resulted in advances by either side of the conflict. Despite General Hifter’s forces having superior firepower, Ansar al Sharia and the 17 February Martyrs’ Brigade have proved themselves to be extremely resilient. Indeed, it has been suggested that the Islamist forces have been backed up by troops from the Central Libya Shield (CLS) Brigade and the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR), which have also been involved in fighting in Tripoli. Attempts to limit fighting in Benghazi have repeatedly been unsuccessful, and as neither side appears able to make substantial gains over the other, the conflict is likely to continue in the current violent stalemate.   While it has been hoped that the newly-elected House of Representatives will be formed in Benghazi following a handover ceremony scheduled for 04 August 2014, recent indications have been that the new parliament will carry out subsequent meetings elsewhere while the security situation remains so unstable in Benghazi.

Libya Other Areas

One person was killed and three others injured by an explosion at an arms storage facility in Khoms on 26 July. The dead individual was identified as a Syrian national. Khoms is located around 135 kilometres east of the capital, and it has been speculated that the detonation occurred while supporters of the Central Libya Shield (CLS) Brigade were attempting to transport weaponry to Tripoli to supply the CLS and its allies.  It was reported that a Maltese citizen was kidnapped on 17 July 2014, while he was on his way to work on the western outskirts of Tripoli. The victim has been identified as forty-two-year-old Martin Galil Balag, who is employed at the National Oil Company (NOC) in Libya. The Maltese embassy in Tripoli stated that they had attempted to make contact with Balag’s kidnappers, but had thus far been unsuccessful. As violence has worsened throughout Libya, the risk of kidnapping is undoubtedly heightened, with numerous reports of kidnap emerging each day. While a prominent political activist, Abd Moez Banoon, who was kidnapped on 24 July 2014, remains captive, two protesters who were abducted during a demonstration in Algeria Square on 25 July 2014, were released early on 28 July 2014, near Mitiga Airbase. The victims have been identified as Nader Elgadi and Zak Abdul Wahab, but the reasons behind their kidnapping and subsequent release remain unclear. It is believed that Banoon remains in the custody of elements of the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room.

Airports

As the conflict continues, Tripoli International Airport remains closed, with ever increasing damages lengthening the period for which it will likely be out of action. There has been major confusion over the availability of international flights in and out of Libya this past week with Mitiga airport becoming the main hub within the city and taking a small amount of international flights in and out each day from some of the more minor or Libyan carriers. With authorities and companies now advising that travellers utilise the land crossing to Tunisia to leave the country and onto Djerba to link up to an international flight program, SNE have setup a regular journey management team who are navigating this route regularly. Local airlines resumed flights via Tripoli’s second airport, Mitiga Airport and Misrata International Airport on 19 July 2014, but both of these airports have a far smaller capacity than TIP and continued travel disruptions are expected. Nevertheless, Afriqiyah Airways stated on 22 July that it hopes to resume flights to its four European destinations (London, Dusseldorf, Rome and Istanbul) via Misrata International Airport in the coming days, this remains TBC. Benghazi’s Benina International Airport has been closed for more than two months, and is unlikely to reopen in the near future due to its continued use as a base of operations for elements of the Libyan Air Force loyal to General Hifter’s “Operation Dignity”. A number of major roads have been repeatedly closed, particularly the routes into Tripoli from the east, and increased blockades and checkpoints have been set up in the city. The Port Salloum border crossing between Libya and Egypt has been closed to Egyptian cargo trucks travelling to Libya. However, Egyptian trucks and citizens are allowed to return to Egypt and Libyans and Libyan cargo trucks are permitted to travel through the port.  Afriqiyah Airways has denied reports that Libyan airspace would be closed, and has announced flight schedules for the next few days. International flights to Europe are extremely limited, with a Ghadames Air flight from Misrata International Airport to Istanbul being the only available route, but flights to countries in the region including Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan are available from Mitiga Airbase in Tripoli and from Labrak Airport in al Bayda. While flights are operating out of Mitiga, Misrata and Labrak, none of these airports are able to operate close to the capacity of TIP. Furthermore, it has been reported that due to the violence, a number of employees from both Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines have been unable to attend work, meaning further disruptions are likely to planned flights.  A number of major roads have been repeatedly closed, particularly the routes into Tripoli from the east, and increased blockades and checkpoints have been set up in the city. The Port Salloum border crossing between Libya and Egypt has been closed to Egyptian cargo trucks travelling to Libya. However, Egyptian trucks and citizens are allowed to return to Egypt and Libyans and Libyan cargo trucks are permitted to travel through the port. However, travellers have reported that the land route from Tripoli to the Tunisian border has generally remained open and safe. Travellers should be aware, however, of the attack on a convoy of vehicles transporting British embassy staff to Tunisia near Camp 27, twenty-seven kilometres west of Tripoli.

Due to the current ongoing unstable situation within Tripoli SNE advises that all non-essential client personnel and there dependants should consider relocating outside of the city or country where possible. Only business essential movements should take place and no movement should be attempted in dark hours or near the area of Tripoli International Airport and surroundings area affected by the fighting. SNE is advising NO travel should be made to Benghazi until the current situation shows signs of stability.

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