Islamist militia now guards US Embassy in Libya
Updated: 2014-09-01 10:39
A view of an annex of the US embassy in Tripoli during a media tour organised by Operation Dawn, a group of Islamist-leaning forces mainly from Misrata, August 31, 2014, after the group took over the annex. Members of the group have taken over the annex but have not broken into the main compound where the United States evacuated all of its staff last month, US officials said on Sunday.[Photo/Agencies]
TRIPOLI, Libya - An Islamist-allied militia group in control of Libya's capital now guards the US Embassy and its residential compound, a commander said Sunday, as onlookers toured the abandoned homes of diplomats who fled the country more than a month ago.
An Associated Press journalist saw holes left by small-arms and rocket fire dotting the residential compound, reminders of weeks of violence between rival militias over control of Tripoli that sparked the evacuation.
The breach of a deserted US diplomatic post - including images of men earlier swimming in the compound's algae-filled pools - likely will reinvigorate debate in the US over its role in Libya, more than three years after supporting rebels who toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It also comes just before the two-year anniversary of the slaying of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya.
A commander for the Dawn of Libya group, Moussa Abu-Zaqia, told the AP that his forces had been guarding the residential compound since last week, a day after it seized control of the capital and its international airport after weeks of fighting with a rival militia. Abu-Zaqia said the rival militia from Zintan was in the compound before his troops took it over.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said the department is seeking additional information but believed the embassy compound "remains secure."
The official said the US had moved embassy staff from Tripoli to Valletta, Malta, because of "ongoing fighting between militias occurring very close to our compound." Those personnel "remain engaged," the official said, while the State Department continues to work with the Libyan government.
Some windows at the compound had been broken, but it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. The AP journalist saw treadmills, weight benches and protein bars in the compound's abandoned gym. Forks, knives and napkins set for a banquet sat on one table, while a cantina still had cornflakes, vinegar, salt and pepper sitting out.
Some papers lay strewn on the floor, but it didn't appear that the villas in the compound had been ransacked.
Hassan Ali, a Dawn of Libya commander, said his fighters saw "small fires and a little damage" before they chased the rival Zintan militia out of the residential compound.
"We entered and put some of our fighters to secure this place and we preserved this place as much as we could," he said.
Abu-Zaqia said his militia had asked cleaners to come to spruce up the grounds.
He added that the US Embassy staff "are most welcome in God's blessing, and any area that is controlled by Dawn of Libya is totally secure and there are no troubles at all."