44 Dead After Airstrike Hits Libyan Migrant Detention Center; Attack Could Be ‘War Crime’

July 3, 2019 Updated: July 3, 2019

At least 44 people died in a Libyan migrant detention hub after an airstrike hit the building, in an attack that the United Nations said might constitute a war crime.

Some 130 more people were injured in the attack, which the Libyan government blamed on forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, a local warlord, reported the BBC. Haftar’s forces, however, said the Libyan government was behind the attack.

Some news outlets, including The Associated Press, described the incident as an airstrike while others, including the BBC, said it was shelling.

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The damage inside the detention center in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighborhood after an airstrike on July 3, 2019. (AP Photo)

The United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the attack might “amount to a war crime” and was “the second time the shelter was hit,” the BBC reported.

Since longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, Libya has been mired in violence and instability.

Libyan health ministry, Doctor Khalid Bin Attia, said that after the migrant center was destroyed, chaos reigned.

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A migrant picks up her belongings from among rubble at a detention center for mainly African migrants that was hit by an airstrike in the Tajoura suburb of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Libya on July 3, 2019. (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters)

“People were everywhere, the camp was destroyed, people are crying here, there is psychological trauma, the lights cut off,” Attia said. “We couldn’t see the area very clear but just when the ambulance came, it was horrible, blood is everywhere, somebody’s guts in pieces.”

“The absurdity of this ongoing war today has led this odious bloody carnage to its most hideous and most tragic consequences,” the UN Support Mission in Libya said in a statement.

It also called on the international community “to denounce this crime and apply appropriate penalties on those who ordered, carried out and provided arms for this operation in a flagrant violation to the international humanitarian law and the simplest humanitarian norms and values.”

The head of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also condemned the strike. He called for an independent investigation and said those responsible for the “horrific crime” should be held to account. U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame said the airstrike could amount to a war crime because it “killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter,” AP reported.

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Wounded migrants lie on hospital beds after an air strike hit a detention center for mainly African migrants in Tajoura, in Tripoli Central Hospital, Libya on July 3, 2019. (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters)

The Libyan National Army, which backs Haftar, launched an offensive against the weak Tripoli-based government in April.

Hifter’s forces control much of Libya’s east and south but suffered a significant blow last week when militias allied with the Tripoli government reclaimed the strategic town of Gharyan, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the capital. Gharyan had been a key LNA supply route.

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Migrants carry the remains of their belongings from among rubble at a detention center for mainly African migrants that was hit by an airstrike in the Tajoura suburb of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Libya on July 3, 2019. (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters)

Hifter’s forces have targeted militia positions in Tajoura with airstrikes in recent weeks. The LNA said Monday it had begun an air campaign on rival forces in Tripoli after it lost control of Gharyan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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