It now appears that as many as 80 people may have died in vicious fighting in Garabulli today with tension remaining high as locals expect further violence tomorrow.
Yesterday, a militiaman from a Misratan unit, believed to be the Bayou Battalion, which is based in the town, went into a shop and allegedly refused to pay for goods. The shopkeeper, Ali Al-Rajhi, shot the militiaman, identified as Al-Ghanma, in the leg. Some reports say Rajhi seized Ghanma’s own weapon and shot him with it. Before sunset, Ghanma’s comrades returned and burnt down the shop and demolished the shopkeeper’s home.
At dawn this morning, young men from Garabulli reportedly attacked three Misratan militia camps in the town, including that belonging to the Bayou Battalion as well as one used by military police. At some point, in one of the camps, a container holding ammunition is said to have exploded causing multiple deaths and injuries. A large brown cloud hung over a compound after the blast. It is being claimed that as many as 49 Misratans died in the course of the day, many apparently in that explosion. However, Misratan military sources are only been mentioning militiamen killed in the fighting in Sirte. There have been no comments about the Garabulli incident.
Meanwhile Garabulli sources are saying that 30 locals were killed and 25 wounded, many of them by Misratan fire from 106mm guns and, one report claimed, Grad rocket salvoes. A resident in the town told the Libya Herald that some of the wounded townspeople had died of their injuries because Misratans blocked the road to both Tripoli and Khoms. Ambulances were not allowed through.
The Bayou Battalion is reported to have abandoned its base and relocated to the village of Gasr Ben Hamad to the east of the town. One source in Misrata described the battalion as “hooligans deeply involved in people-smuggling”. Garabulli along with Zuwara has emerged as a key launching point for migrants.
Tonight the lightly-armed residents are preparing for what they believe will be a counter-attack tomorrow. One claimed that individuals from Tripoli had been arriving in the town to help with its defence.
The confirmed death toll among Garabulli townspeople brings awkward echoes of Tripoli’s November 2013 Gharghour massacre in which 47 demonstrators died in a protest at the continued presence of outside militias. Those reverberations are the louder because there are unconfirmed reports that Bayou Battalion members were among the Misratans at the Gharghour base at the time of the killings.
At the time, there was widespread shock. The bloody confrontation, which was condemned by some in Misrata, led to the withdrawal of its militias from the capital. Misratan forces returned with the Libya Dawn takeover in June 2014. Militiamen from the city are now responsible for guarding prime minister-designate Faiez Serraj and other members of the Presidency Council in their headquarters in Tripoli’s Bu Sitta naval base.