By Libya Herald reporters.
Tripoli/Misrata/Benghazi, 18 May 2017:
Possibly as many as 130 LNA soldiers are reported to have been shot, execution-style, after the Misratan-led 13th Battalion (formerly the Third Force) in alliance with the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) and other forces recaptured the Brak Al-Shatti airbase early this morning. The mayor of Brak Al-Shatti has reported that some 74 defender were killed, five of them beheaded.
Earlier, LNA sources had claimed its 12th Battalion led by General Mohamed Ben Nayel tasked with protecting the airbase had managed to retake it with the backing of airstrikes, in the process destroying a vast array of the attackers’ equipment. Senior LNA sources further claimed they received intelligence of the attack beforehand and retreated to lay a trap.
This, however, was not true and reliable sources in Misrata and Tripoli noted that the base remained in Misratan hands, pointing out that clashes were still continuing this evening. The Misratans, moreover, claimed that they seized the base in the first place without any loss of life or equipment. They added that they had captured large amounts of equipment and several LNA soldiers. This afternoon, they said they had set up a cordon around the airbase and were searching for LNA members who had escaped.
Initially it was admitted by LNA sources that it had lost at least five fighters, including Ali Ibrahim Ben Nayel, the nephew of General Ben Nayel. This later rose to more than ten deaths. By this evening, though, as the extent of the massacre began to filter out, the figure was being put at as high as 134 dead. A source at the medical centre in Brak Al-Shatti said that there were number of civilians among them.
“They killed everyone at the base: soldiers, cooks, cleaners,” said one LNA source. Most were said to have been killed with a shot to the head.
Some of them were among the new cadets whom graduated during the army ceremony to celebrate the third anniversary of Operation Dignity in Tocra two days ago. They had flown to the airbase last night to travel home from there. Four of the new young officers were from Murzuk. The Libya Herald spoke by phone to one of their relatives who confirmed the news.
The LNA has accused the attackers and the GNA’s defence ministry of treachery, saying they took advantage of the fact that much of the 12th Battalion was in Tocra for the Operation Dignity celebrations on Tuesday and broke a truce. The LNA say that a general truce in the south had been agreed by Khalifa Hafter and Presidency Council head Faiez Serraj at their talks in Abu Dhabi last month.
As well as the BDB and Brigade 201, the main body of attackers were from the 13th Brigade, formerly the Third Force, which is now under the control of the PC’s defence ministry run by Mahdi Al-Barghathi. It is still commanded by Jamal Al-Treiki.
Late this evening, the 13th Battalion was reported to have withdrawn from the airbase. The LNA general command has warned of a harsh response to the massacre.
This story has been updated as news of killings at Brak came in.