The Islamist who heads one of Libya’s most powerful armed groups, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, was detained briefly at Tripoli international airport by security staff loyal to a rival militia leader, according to airport staff, a sign of growing enmity between competing armed groups.
“Belhadj’s passport was out of date so we stopped him for one hour and then let him go,” said a member of the Zintan militia, which has taken control of the airport and whose fighters say they are organising airport security.
Libyans interviewed on Thursday say the detention could be a taunt from Zintan-born militia leader Abdullah Naker who sees Belhadj as an agent of Qatar, which poured military and humanitarian aid into his rebel camp.
Naker has opposed to any role in government or a national Libyan army for Belhadj.
In a set-back to Belhadj’s camp, the post of defence minister in the new government was this week given to a commander from Zintan, in Libya’s Western Mountains region.
A press aide to Belhadj refused to comment on the incident. “I don’t have any answer, everything is fine,” he said.
Although Libya’s interim government was sworn in on Thursday, the country is still awash with militias who have set up roadblocks and surrounded oil fields and airports in the north African state.
A large banner is hung in the arrivals lounge in the airport reading: “Zintan welcomes you”.
The new government hopes to disarm and amalgamate the militias into one national security force but with many of the groups unwilling to give up their weapons and still distrustful of each other and the new government, it will prove a hard task.