An Islamist-allied militia group in control of Libya’s capital now guards the U.S. Embassy and its residential compound, a commander said Sunday, as onlookers toured the abandoned homes of diplomats who fled the country more than a month ago.
A journalist saw holes left by small-arms and rocket fire dotting the residential compound, reminders of weeks of violence between rival militias over control of Tripoli that sparked the evacuation.
The breach of a deserted U.S. diplomatic post — including images of men earlier swimming in the compound’s algae-filled pools — likely will reinvigorate debate in the U.S. over its role in Libya, more than three years after supporting rebels who toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It also comes just before the two-year anniversary of the slaying of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya.
A commander for the Dawn of Libya group, Moussa Abu-Zaqia, said his forces had been guarding the residential compound since last week, a day after it seized control of the capital and its international airport after weeks of fighting with a rival militia. Abu-Zaqia said the rival militia from Zintan was in the compound before his troops took it over.
Some windows at the compound had been broken, but it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. Some papers lay strewn on the floor, but it didn’t appear that the villas in the compound had been ransacked.
Hassan Ali, a Dawn of Libya commander, said his fighters saw “small fires and a little damage” before they chased the rival Zintan militia out of the residential compound.
“We entered and put some of our fighters to secure this place, and we preserved this place as much as we could,” he said.
Abu-Zaqia said his militia had asked cleaners to come to spruce up the grounds.
He added that the U.S. Embassy staff “are most welcome in God’s blessing, and any area that is controlled by Dawn of Libya is totally secure and there are no troubles at all.”
Another Dawn of Libya commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. Embassy, about a half a mile from the residential compound, also was under guard by his militiamen.
“We’ve secured the location and the assets of the embassy,” he said. “We’ve informed our command … immediately after entering the place following the exit of the rival militia. The place is secure and under protection.”
The Dawn of Libya militia is not associated with the extremist militia Ansar al-Shariah, which Washington blames for the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed Stevens and the three other Americans.
A video posted online Sunday showed unarmed men playing in a pool at the compound and jumping into it from a second-story balcony. In a message on Twitter, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said the video appeared to have been shot in at the embassy’s residential annex, though she said she couldn’t “say definitively” since she wasn’t there.
“To my knowledge & per recent photos the US Embassy Tripoli chancery & compound is now being safeguarded and has not been ransacked,” she wrote on Twitter. She did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate. State Department officials in Washington also declined to immediately comment.