Two Libyan air force colonels piloting two Mirage F1 fighter jets arrived in Malta Sunday, asking for political asylum after being order to bomb protesters amid the chaos of a budding civil war, according to Associated Press.
Airport immigration officials questioned the two pilots as well as seven others - civilians claiming they were French - who arrived in two civilian helicopters shortly before the jets touched down at Malta International Airport.
The two Libyan air force colonels reportedly told authorities from the cockpit that they were seeking asylum after taking off from a base near Tripoli. They had flown at a low altitude through Libyan air space to avoid detection, according to a source that requested anonymity. According to Maltese government officials, the pair flew away after being ordered to bomb protesters.
Sources from the scene appeared to confirm the report. “What we are witnessing today is unimaginable,” said Adel Mohamed Saleh, a Libyan political activist. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead.”
Quoting witnesses, the pan-Arab Al Jazeera satellite news network reported that Libyan warplanes were bombing indiscriminately across Tripoli. There were no third-party confirmations.
Most recent estimates place the current death toll at 600, a figure that included 250 murders on Monday alone by government forces aided by mercenaries, according to the Human Rights Watch organization.
European governments, as well as oil and gas companies, have been evacuating their citizens. Military forces reportedly split up and were fighting each other. Hundreds of thousands of protesters continued to swarm over public sites in major cities across the country. Demonstrators stormed Tripoli Monday and set government buildings on fire as the death toll mounted from the bloodbath.
Media reported that a Turkish Airlines flight was unable to land in the eastern city of Benghazi on Monday; the flight circled over the airport but was forced to return to Istanbul. A witness in Benghazi reported that protesters lowered the national flag, and instead raised that which belonged to the former monarch who was toppled in the 1969 coup that brought Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to power.
Meanwhile, speculation continues to mount that Gaddafi may have fled to Venezuela during the violence overnight Sunday, leaving his son Seif al-Islam to face the media. Al-Islam warned in a national broadcast that a civil war was possible, and vowed to “fight to the last bullet” as his father's armed forces reportedly continued to split, fighting each other.
Gaddafi also denied that his father had fled, insisting, “My father is in Libya and is supported by his army.”