More than 1,000 inmates escaped during a prison riot on Saturday in the restive city of Benghazi, a Libyan security official said, as protesters attacked Muslim Brotherhood offices following a wave of assassinations.
“There was a riot inside al-Kuifiya prison, as well as an attack from outside. More then 1,000 prisoners escaped. Special forces called in as reinforcements were given orders not to fire at the prisoners,” the official said, asking not to be named.
He said most of the escapees were common-law detainees, including nationals of other African states.
“But some of them were detainees in cases linked to the former regime of [former Libyan leader] Muammar Qaddafi,” he said, adding that several inmates were recaptured shortly after the breakout.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan confirmed the incident, without giving the number of fugitives.
“Residents of the area carried out the attack because they don’t want the prison near their homes,” he said, adding that border posts had been alerted and given a list of names to apprehend the escapees.
Zeidan earlier announced that border posts with Egypt had been closed to prevent the escape of the killers of a prominent activist in the eastern Libyan city on Friday.
Thousands of Libyans protested earlier on Saturday in Tripoli and Benghazi against parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, blamed for the wave of violence in the east of the country.
Protesters ransacked Tripoli offices of both the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Party of Justice and Construction (PJC), and its liberal rival, the Alliance of National Forces (NFA).
In Benghazi, youths stormed and ransacked the building housing the PJC, after hundreds took to the streets on Friday night to condemn the assassination of Abdessalem al-Mesmari, an anti-Islamist lawyer who campaigned for a civil state.
The demonstrators accuse the Brotherhood of being behind killings that have targeted dozens of officers, especially in Benghazi, the city that was the cradle of the 2011 uprising that ousted Qaddafi.
In Tripoli, hundreds of people gathered at Martyrs’ Square in the heart of the capital to demonstrate in “solidarity with Benghazi” and against the Islamist movement.
About 100 youths then descended on PJC offices in the Ben Ashur district, smashing its windows and looting furniture.
From the outset, the demonstrators chanted slogans against the Brotherhood, but they later also targeted the NFA, which won elections in July last year.
“We want all political parties to be dissolved,” protester Ahmed Trabelsi said. “They’re the cause of all our problems.”
The PJC and NFA are accused of manipulating the militias left over from the revolution that toppled Qaddafi in a country still awash with weaponry not in state hands.