Gunmen storm Libyan parliament after attacking building

A man walks past destroyed warehouses following Friday's clashes between Libyan irregular forces...

A man walks past destroyed warehouses following Friday's clashes between Libyan irregular forces and Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi May 17, 2014. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Ahmed Elumami and Feras Bosalum, Reuters

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

TRIPOLI - Heavily armed gunmen stormed into Libya's parliament on Sunday after attacking the building with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, witnesses and residents said.

Details of the armed group were unclear, but a spokesman for retired Libyan general Khalifa Haftar said his irregular forces had carried out the assault as part of his campaign against Islamist militants.

"These are members of the Libyan National Army," Mohamed al-Hejazi, spokesman for the group said, using the name of the irregular forces loyal to Haftar.

Heavy smoke billowed from the parliament building, and a Reuters reporter said gunmen had closed the streets leading to legislature. Another witness said gunmen had kidnapped two people from the congress.

Lawmaker Omar Bushah told Reuters gunmen had stormed into the General National Congress, raiding lawmakers' offices and set the building on fire. Witnesses reported heavy fighting outside the parliament.

One resident said the attackers later left and that armed locals were now protecting the area. A Reuters reporter saw dozens of armed people near parliament. It was not possible to verify which group they might represent.

Libya's parliament has been paralysed by divisions between Islamist parties and more nationalist rivals. Many Libyans blame the congress for their failure to progress toward democratic transition since the fall of veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Haftar, a former rebel in the war against Gaddafi, sent his fighters into Benghazi on Friday against Islamist militants based in the city after, saying Libya's government had failed to halt violence there.

After the ousting of Gaddafi, Libya's weak government and army have been unable to impose state authority over heavily armed brigades of former rebels and militias who have become the North African country's powerbrokers.

New Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq has formed a government pending parliamentary approval this week, officials said on Sunday, after the country went nearly two months without a functioning government.


Videos

Photos