Mussa Ibrahim
Mussa Ibrahim AFP/File

Libya's government announced on Saturday the arrest of former leader Muammar Qaddafi’s spokesman, as its forces unleashed a bloody offensive against one of Qaddafi’s final bastions exactly a year after his death.

"Mussa Ibrahim was arrested at a checkpoint in the town of Tarhuna," read a statement issued by the prime minister's office and quoted by AFP. "(He) is being taken to Tripoli where he will be handed over to the pertinent authorities to begin questioning."

Ibrahim's capture comes on the first anniversary of the death of his patron, who was seized and killed in his hometown of Sirte on October 20, 2011, after eight months of bloody conflict.

News of the arrest came after the authorities said Libya was still not fully liberated from Qaddafi’s legacy, and warned that loyalists continued to pose an active threat, particularly in Bani Walid, one of his final strongholds.

"The campaign to liberate the country has not been fully completed," Mohammed Megaryef, the head of the national assembly, said in broadcast remarks, according to AFP.

"Bani Walid's misfortune is that it has become a sanctuary for a large number of outlaws and anti-revolutionaries and mercenaries," Megaryef said.

Forces linked to the army, most of them former rebels, encircled the hilltop town this month in a bid to bring to justice the men who kidnapped and allegedly tortured Omran Shaaban, an ex-rebel credited with capturing Qaddafi.

Fierce fighting erupted on Saturday as pro-government forces pushed closer to Bani Walid's centre in a bid to snuff out diehard former regime loyalists, Colonel Ali al-Sheikhi, spokesman of the chief of staff, told AFP.

At least 14 people were killed and 200 were wounded, the report said.

Megaryef, president of the democratically elected General National Congress, gave a sombre assessment of the post-Qaddafi period, pointing to "negligence" in the formation of a professional army and police force.

He also cited the failure to disarm and integrate former rebels.

Megaryef stressed that delays in reactivating and reforming the judiciary had hampered national reconciliation during a critical transition period for the oil-rich nation.

"This situation has created a state of discontent and tension among different segments of society and contributed to the spread of chaos, disorder, corruption and weakness in the performance of various government agencies," he said.

This benefitted "remnants of the former regime which have infiltrated the organs of the state, maybe even its leadership, and are plotting against the revolution with the help of others who are abroad," added Megaryef.

Bani Walid's military commander, Salem al-Waer, told AFP "there was heavy shelling" for a second day on Saturday and accused the authorities of giving "militias a green light to exterminate us."

Megaryef said the operations under way "do not target this brave city or its people, rather they target culprits, wanted people, the accused and infiltrators."

"This is not a genocide or ethnic cleansing as erroneously claimed by some. It is a campaign to restore legitimacy," he added.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya expressed concern, AFP reported.

"In the interests of national reconciliation and long-term stability of the country, a mediated settlement is urgently needed," said UN envoy to Libya, Tarek Mitri in a statement urging the protection of civilians.

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