Islamist militias said they had taken control of Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, on Thursday, declaring it “an Islamic emirate.”
The announcement comes a day after the militant group Ansar al Sharia defeated government troops fighting alongside rogue former general Khalifa Haftar’s army to take over the biggest special forces base in the city. The group joined forces with other Islamist militias under the umbrella of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries.
Mohamed Al Zahawi, head of Ansar al Sharia, congratulated his followers for a “victory and conquest.”
“Benghazi is an Islamic emirate under our rule from now on,” Al Zahawi said in a video statement. “God’s sharia will be imposed on everyone from all nationalities in the city.” Sharia refers to Islamic law.
Fighting between Islamic militias and Haftar’s troops has intensified in Benghazi and the capital, Tripoli, leaving at least 200 people dead over the last two weeks.
In Tripoli, the fight over the international airport continued Thursday between Islamist militias from the western city of Misurata and the Zentan militias assigned by the government to secure the airport since 2012.
Artillery and rockets were launched in two of the capital’s districts, but no casualties were reported.
The two groups temporarily agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire Wednesday to allow firefighters put out a blaze in oil tanks near the airport. The state-run National Oil Corp. said Thursday that firefighters were still working on the blaze.
In the three years since the ouster of longtime leader Moammar Kadafi, Libya’s elected General National Congress has struggled to impose its authority among armed groups that took part in his overthrow.
Amro Hassan is a special correspondent.