Libyan National Army LNA
At least 141 people, mostly soldiers from the Libyan National Army (LNA), were killed in an attack on Brak Al-Shati Airbase in southern Libya Reuters

The defence minister of the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord in Libya has been suspended after at least 141 people were killed in an attack on Brak Al-Shati air base in southern Libya on Thursday (18 May). The attack was allegedly carried out by a government-backed militia called the Third Force.

However, the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, strongly condemned and denied ordering the attack.

He ordered a thorough probe into the incident and immediate suspension of defence minister Mahdi Al-Barghathi and Third Force commander Jamal Traiki "until it is determined who was responsible for violating the ceasefire", Reuters wrote.

Barghathi – a former Libyan National Army (LNA) commander who later turned against LNA chief Khalifa Haftar – has been widely accused of plotting military operations against the LNA in the past. However, the ministry denied his involvement in the latest attack.

According to The Libya Observer, the media office of the Third Force said the airbase attack was in retaliation of the repeated attacks and shelling on Taminhint Airbase by militant forces of Benghazi. Mohammed Qaliwan, head of the media office, told local media that their forces disabled the Brak airbase to prevent future attacks on Taminhint. Qaliwan also denied media reports that the attackers executed militants and civilians.

Meanwhile, Ahmed al-Mismari, a spokesman for the eastern-based LNA, said on Friday that 103 of those killed in the attack were LNA troops, mostly from the 12th Brigade stationed there. Earlier local authorities and health officials had put the death toll at around 90.

Local and LNA officials said the casualties also included civilians, who appeared to have been summarily executed by the insurgents. Some media reports had said that the LNA members killed in the attack were unarmed, but Mohamed Gliwan, a spokesman for the Third Force, told local TV that the LNA soldiers were armed at the time of the attack.

Forces loyal to Mohammed Ben Nayal of Dignity Operation - a UN designated terrorist group - had seized Brak Al-Shati Airbase in December 2016 and allegedly started using it to launch attacks on Taminhint Airbase to expel the Third Force from south Libya.