Gunmen Storm Libyan Parliament

Forces loyal to a rogue Libyan general launch a military assault against parliament, then suspend its operations.

Elad Benari ,

Security at the entrance to the Libyan parlia
Security at the entrance to the Libyan parlia

Forces apparently loyal to a rogue Libyan general said on Sunday they had suspended parliament after earlier leading a military assault against lawmakers, reports The Associated Press (AP).

A commander in the military police in Libya read a statement announcing the suspension on behalf of a group led by General Khalifa Hifter, a one-time rebel commander who said the U.S. backed his efforts to topple former leader Muammar Qaddafi in the 1990s.

Hours earlier, according to AP, militia members backed by truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns, mortars and rocket fire attacked parliament, sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives as gunmen ransacked the legislature.

Gen. Mokhtar Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel on behalf of Hifter's group, said it assigned a 60-member constituent's assembly to take over for parliament.

Farnana said Libya's current government would act on as an emergency Cabinet, without elaborating.

Farnana, who is in charge of prisons operated by the military police, said forces loyal to Hifter carried out Sunday's attack on parliament. He also said Sunday's attack on Libya's parliament was not a coup, but "fighting by the people's choice."

Sunday’s incident is the latest in the constant unrest that has gripped Libya since Qaddafi’s ouster.

The parliament building has been stormed several times by gunmen over the last year and a half. In addition, independent militias still control large part of the North African country, more than two years after Qaddafi’s downfall, and regularly fight each other as well as the country’s interim authorities. Terrorist groups have taken advantage of the situation and are training fighters on Libyan soil.

In October, Libya’s then-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped from the Tripoli hotel in which he resides, but was released several hours later.

In January, former rebels kidnapped five Egyptian diplomats in retaliation for Egypt’s arrest of a top Libyan militia commander. They were freed several days later.