Attacks in Benghazi kill 5 Libyan soldiers

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Associated Press

Posted on June 15, 2013 at 11:35 AM

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Gunmen staged overnight attacks on at least six security buildings and outposts throughout Libya's eastern city of Benghazi, killing five soldiers, military officials said Saturday.

The brazen assaults, which included snipers, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives thrown onto rooftops, comes after a number of smaller targeted attacks and assassinations of security officials in the city over the past several months.

Spokesman for the army's chief of staff Ali el-Sheikhy said no group has claimed responsibility for attacks. Officials have also not announced any arrests.

An elite military unit known as Saaqa claimed on its Facebook page that Islamic extremists were responsible. It gave no further details.

Security officials say 11 people have been wounded. The figure includes assailants, as well.

Tensions have been boiling in Benghazi over militias, particularly after clashes a week ago killed 31 people, mostly demonstrators, during anti-militia protests. The military has since taken over several militia bases in the city, which was the birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi from power.

The coordinated assault began just after midnight on Saturday when dozens of gunmen in civilian clothes assaulted military outposts and the National Security Directorate with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons. The First Infantry Brigade was forced to withdraw from its headquarters when the assailants stormed the building. Two army vehicles were also destroyed in the clashes.

The military's chief of staff Salem Qineydi, in a statement broadcast on Libyan state TV just before dawn, said a security building was burnt.

At least three Saaqa soldiers were among the dead, according to the military unit's Facebook page. It said they had been killed by snipers who shot them directly in the head. The unit also said that in one case, explosives were thrown onto the roof of a security building while soldiers were inside.

"They sacrificed with their lives to defend with honor and full force, valor and the legitimacy of the state," the statement by Saaqa added.

The fighting lasted until late morning after spilling over to areas around Benghazi's international airport, which officials closed Saturday out of concerns for security. Reinforcements have been sent from the capital Tripoli to Benghazi, the country's second largest city.

A security official in Benghazi, who wished not to be named out of fear for his safety, said some of the fighting also took place in residential areas.

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