Libyan war planes attacked targets in south-central area of Libya on Saturday (January 18, 2014) after gunmen stormed and seized the Tamahind air force base outside Sabha, 770 km (480 miles) south of the capital Tripoli. At least 15 people have been killed in clashes between two tribes in Libya’s south, between al-Tabw tribe and the Awlad Soliman tribe. While the violence was sparked by the killing of a guard for the city’s military leader, media reports indicated the growing influence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) branch in the region. The group has established a haven in the borderless southern Libya, after French and West African forces drove them out of their fledgling Islamic state in northern Mali a year ago. Following the attack the Libyan government ordered ground troops to be sent south.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan went on national television to announce he had ordered troops to be sent to the south following the attack on the base. Defence Ministry spokesman Abdul-Raziq al-Shabahi said later that government forces had regained control of the base after air strikes. “The situation in the south … opened a chance for some criminals … loyal to the Gaddafi regime to exploit this and to attack the Tamahind air force base,” Shabahi said. After Zeidan’s announcement, the General National Congress (GNC) assembly voted to put the army on general alert, state news agency Lana and a deputy said. In Tripoli, security forces were also been put on maximum alert, a security spokesman said.
Following the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in 2011 Libya has turned into a weapons smuggling route for al Qaeda in sub-Saharan countries, and an arms supply corridor to the Palestinians in Gaza and for Islamist fighters heading to Syria. Originally identified with anti-Qadafi rebels during the 2011 conflict, AQIM is building up links with like-minded jihadists in northern Libya, especially in eastern coastal cities such as Derna and Benghazi. AQIM has also established ties with militant groups in Nigeria, and preparing for new attacks on Western targets. The group is also eying regrouping against Northern Mali, once the French contingent leaves the area.