TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian airlines have suspended flights to Libya’s capital Tripoli after armed men swarmed the runway and stopped a plane from taking off, a company official said Sunday.
Flights were suspended until “an improvement in the security conditions,” said Soulafa Mokaddem, a spokeswoman for Tunisair. Those to Libya’s second city, Benghazi in the east, will continue, she said.
On Saturday afternoon, a TunisAir flight leaving from Tripoli’s military airport of Maitiga carrying 47 wounded Libyans to be treated in Tunisia was stopped by 300 armed men, Tunisia’s state news agency, TAP, said.
The fighters from the nearby suburb of Souq Jumaa stopped the plane from taking off and attempted to board the aircraft as a way of pressuring the government to investigate a recent attack on their comrades, the agency said, quoting the Tunisian charge d’affaires in Libya, Mohammed Ben Ayed.
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The tense standoff was eventually resolved after negotiations with Tunisian diplomats and the plane, carrying the 47 wounded Libyans and seven Tunisian passengers was able to fly back to Tunis, the agency said.
On Wednesday, a band of fighters from the same neighborhood was ambushed by loyalists to the fallen regime of Moammar Gadhafi near one of his former strongholds of Bani Walid 100 miles (170 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
Some 15 fighters were killed in the ambush after being sent there to arrest a known Gadhafi supporter and there have been demonstrations in the capital demanding the perpetrators be brought to justice.
One of the men who survived the attack, Mohammed Salim Shibil, described it to The Associated Press on Friday: “We were driving and we were surprised to find all the roads blocked. It was an ambush; we couldn’t turn right or left, and then the shooting started. We were shot at from the houses and grenades and rockets came at us from both sides. It was a well set ambush.”
Following the overthrow of Gadhafi by rag tag rebels, Libya has been awash with weapons and armed militias with little overarching command structure, often leading to chaotic situations involving gunmen.