At least 28 people were killed and 60 were wounded on Saturday when demonstrators attacked the headquarters in Benghazi of former rebels who had fought to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, a hospital official said.
“We have so far identified 28 people dead and some 60 injured,” a doctor at Al-Jala hospital in the eastern Libyan city told reporters, more than doubling an earlier toll.
Fighting erupted after dozens of demonstrators, some of them armed, tried to dislodge the powerful Shield of Libya Brigade from its barracks in Benghazi, a reporter said.
They encircled the headquarters and called on regular Libyan security forces to step in.
Libya’s post-Qaddafi authorities, who have still not managed to form a professional new army and police corps, often call on the militant group to intervene in the various tribal conflicts that trouble the country.
Shield of Libya spokesman Adel Tarhuni said one member of the brigade had died and another seven wounded. Tarhuni also defended the legitimacy of the brigade, saying it was under the umbrella of the Libyan Ministry of Defense. He reported that a peaceful demonstration in front of the brigade’s headquarters had been infiltrated by armed aggressors.
The gunmen then opened fire on the group’s barracks and threw improvised explosives, Tarhuni told television station Libya Al-Ahrar.
Libyan National Army spokesman Colonel Ali al-Shikhi said the brigade was “a reserve force of the Libyan army” and an attack on them was equivalent to an “attack on the legitimate authorities.”
Al-Shikhi said the incident was “very serious” and called on restraint from all parties.
Overnight on Saturday, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said that the Shield of Libya members had left their headquarters and the regular army had taken over the location.
Speaking on national television, Zeidan announced the opening of an inquiry into the incident, calling for calm on all sides.
The new authorities in Libya have failed to disarm and dissolve the former rebel groups, while seeking to legitimize some despite wide opposition in the general population.
Benghazi, the birthplace of the 2011 Libyan revolution, has seen several bombings and attacks against security services and Western diplomatic missions in recent months.
The attacks have been blamed on radical Islamists, like the one in Sept. 11 last year against the US consulate that killed four Americans, including US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.