Locals reported killed in central Tripoli gun battle with rogue SSC brigade

Fighting took place after a security . . .[restrict]forces moved to arrest a rogue SSC commander in Tripoli’s Sidi Khalifa district. (Photo: George Grant)

Tripoli, 4 November:

At least eleven people were reported killed and injured by sources in the Interior Ministry  in fighting today in central Tripoli’s Sidi Khalifa district when forces moved to arrest a renegade commander of the Supreme Security Committee (SSC), suspected of planning an armed attack in the city.  Some reports claim that as many as 18 people were killed, including local residents. One local man said that four local people had been killed.  There has been no conformation, however, of any deaths and a local doctor was reported saying only a few have been injured.

The fighting in the district’s Shara Al-Zawia, near the central Tripoli hospital, led to the area being locked down throughout much of the day, with roads blocked and schools closed. It was not till 4 pm that the Interior Ministry said that the clashes were over and that the situation was under control.

According to an Interior Ministry source, troops from the ministry’s Capital Forces came under attack when they went to arrest Mohamed Al-Warfali during the night at the former intelligence building in Tripoli’s Shara Al-Zawia. The brigade, which he commands and which was technically part of the SSC, had occupied the building for some months.

The ministry source said that those firing at the forces were both Warfali’s men and local residents who thought that the area was under attack. One bullet was said to have been shot into the hospital.

Warfali, who lives in Sidi Khalifa, was arrested last month in Tarhouna, accused of smuggling weapons into Bani Walid. However, two days ago he managed to make his way  back to Tripoli. The exact circumstances are unclear. Some reports say he escaped, others that he was freed by a sympathiser in Tarhouna.

In Tripoli today, the ministry source claimed that, back in the capital, he started rallying supporters and gathering arms for an attack, although they do not say where.

Today’s fighting started around midnight and continued till around 8am. At that point, an army team took over. According to the interior ministry source, the team tried to negotiate with him to surrender, but he refused. At midday, it then attacked both the intelligence building, much of which had been bombed last near by NATO, and the art academy next door where Warfali was said to be hiding.

It was not till this afternoon that the fighting stopped. Warfali was reported by the interior ministry to have been arrested trying to escape and handed over to the military police. He is now said to be in a prison somewhere in the capital.

Ministry sources say that he will be charged with at least five murders, although it is not clear whether this refers to people killed today or separate cases.

Eleven of his men were arrested along with him.

It has been reported that after the fighting, locals, angry at the fighting and the killings, attacked Warfali’s family home, stole everything in it and set it ablaze.

There were other unrelated shootings in Tripoli also today. In Fashloom district, there was a fight involving guns between two families, but no one was hurt. In east Hadba, a small group of men were reported to  have shot randomly across the highway. No one knows who they were and they escaped.

Nihal Zaroug writes:

Sounds of heavy gunfire could be heard at intervals in downtown Tripoli throughout the day and for much of  last night. It has been reported that the SSC along with other local brigades under its umbrella, were attempting to forcefully evict a brigade emanating from the Sidi Khalifi area of Tripoli.

The rogue brigade known as Support Unit No.8, falls under the auspices of the SSC, but due to alleged crimes involving torture and murder, was expelled from the SSC and its leader Mohamed Al-Warfali sought by authorities.

The move to arrest Warfali spurred the gun battle, as he and his men refused to leave the premises and resisted arrest.

The brigade presence on Sharia Zawia is in a former intelligence building used by the Qaddafi regime, located near the main post office. A busy district was thus entirely shut down to avoid suspects escaping and passers-by being injured, causing considerable congestion all over central Tripoli, as checkpoints were set up to search cars for possible culprits.

According to the military coordinator for the Tripoli local council, 11 suspects have been arrested in connection with the clashes that started at around 9pm last night. Three members of the SSC have reportedly suffered wounds.

Order has been restored to the besieged area by a mobile unit of the army, leading to the capture of Warfali and the discovery of a number of detainees in the brigade’s building. The detainees were reportedly held in deplorable conditions and are being taken care of by the Red Crescent.

This is the latest episode where former revolutionaries appear to hold greater power than the state and highlights the challenges in their reintegration.

Last week former revolutionaries stormed the National Congress hall, managing to postpone voting on Prime Minister Zeidan’s proposed cabinet. They deemed six of the ministerial nominees unfit because of alleged ties with the former regime.

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