Tripoli: Gunmen ambushed a Libyan bank van and made away with over USD 50 million on a highway east of Tripoli, officials said on Tuesday. The brazen heist underscores the weakness of the central government in the North African country, where authorities are struggling to control unruly militias.
A security official told a news agency that the Central Bank van had no guards accompanying it when was ambushed near the city of Sirte late yesterday. The official news agency LANA, quoting a bank official who was with the van, said that a single carload of guards was escorting the money on its way from Sirte`s airport to the local bank branch, but they were unable to resist the 10 attackers.
The money was a mix of foreign currency and Libyan dinars. LANA said that USD 40 million was in dinars and at least USD 12 million in foreign currency without specifying which. The official said the foreign currency consisted of USD 10 million in US dollars and between USD 2.7 to USD 7 million.
The two accounts could not immediately be reconciled. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.
LANA quoted Col. Khaled al-Akari, a security official in Sirte, as saying troops had closed the entries and exits of the city to try to apprehend the thieves. Sirte was a main support base for longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and he made his final stand there before he was captured and killed in October 2011.
Libya lacks a centralised police force and a strong national army, so the government has to rely on militias who were part of the war against Gaddafi. But they often have conflicting political loyalties.
Assassinations and revenge killings are commonplace, fueled by longstanding grudges dating back to Gaddafi`s rule, regional and tribal conflicts, and tensions between hard-line Islamists and other groups.
Much of the violence has centered on Benghazi, a city in the east that was the birthplace of the rebellion.
Today in Benghazi, gunmen opened fire on a protest sit-in made up of men belonging to the tribe of a controversial Gadhafi official who joined the rebels before being assassinated, killing two and wounding three, security officials said.
The motive of the attack was not clear. The protesters were demanding to know the results of the investigation into the 2011 killing of Abdel-Fatah Younis, who was Gaddafi`s interior minister before defecting to the rebel side to help command the uprising.