Islamist militants gain control of Libyan capital after Tripoli airport seized in month-long battle

It had been defended for three years by the anti-Islamist Zintan Brigades

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The Independent Online

Islamist militants have overrun Libya’s capital after a battle against Government-funded militias lasting nearly a month.

The self-titled Dawn of Libya coalition claimed to have taken control of Tripoli’s international airport as well as much of the city by Sunday evening.

It had been defended by the Zintan Brigades, an anti-Islamist group that played a large part in the Libyan Revolution and has since been funded by the post-Gaddafi regime.

Weeks of fierce fighting and shelling has scarred Tripoli, prompting the closure of embassies as diplomats and foreign nationals, as well as thousands of Libyan refugees to flee.

Umbrella groups of militant factions have gained huge power since the overflow of Muammar Gaddafi following the Arab Spring.

Successive transitional governments have depended on militias to maintain order in the absence of a disciplined police force and unified military but in-fighting has built to the worst violence since 2011.

Air strikes have struck the positions of Islamist militias, sparking accusations by the groups that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who oppose Islamists in the region, were behind it but no one has claimed responsibility.

A damaged aircraft is pictured after shelling at Tripoli International Airport August 24, 2014

Egypt's President, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, rebuffed the accusations, saying his armed forces have not carried out any military operations outside Egypt.

There has also been a backlash from Islamist factions that lost their power in parliament following June elections and in the face of a campaign by a renegade military general against extremist militias in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city.

A field commander of the Dawn of Libya militia said his forces are in control of Tripoli and adjacent cities, pushing back the Zintan forces almost 60 miles south of the capital.

The political situation worsened on Sunday when the outgoing Libyan parliament voted to sack the current government, leaving the country with two rival parliaments and governments.

The outgoing Islamist-dominated regime refused to recognise the new Government elected in June, which has a more secular and modern stance.

Further inflaming the situation, incoming politicians described the Dawn of Libya militias as “outlawed” and “terrorist groups” who fight to undermine the legitimacy of the state.

Additional reporting by AP