TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's interim prime minister challenged the appointment of his Islamist-backed potential successor Wednesday, setting the stage for an intense power struggle as airstrikes targeted a militia camp in the country's east.
Libya remains largely in chaos following the 2011 civil war, as the rebels who ousted dictator Moammar Gadhafi later formed the militias now holding the country hostage. Interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni's challenge of the contested vote earlier this month that appointed businessman Ahmed Maiteg only will add to that.
On May 4, the Islamist-dominated parliament appointed Maiteg as al-Thinni's successor in a disputed vote amid a walkout by secular lawmakers.
"If we want to establish the state of law, we have to resort to law," al-Thinni said. "The country is on the brink of a grave phase. We don't want division."
He also said that the people will have "final word" because it's the source of legitimacy.
Meanwhile Wednesday, two airstrikes hit the February 17 militia compound in the eastern city of Benghazi, sending a column of black smoke into the air, witnesses and a security official said. Panicked residents fled as the militia responded with anti-aircraft fire, the official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Though launched by government aircraft, the attack is part of renegade Gen. Khalifa Hifter's ongoing offensive, aimed at crushing Islamist militias and their alleged backers in parliament. Eastern air bases have pledged their support to Hifter, who launched the offensive May 16 in Benghazi.
Two days later, militias allied with Hifter stormed and ransacked the Libyan parliament in Tripoli, declaring the body suspended. Politicians, tribes and army units have lined up with Hifter since, as thousands also have demonstrated to support him.
February 17, founded by Islamist Fawzi Abu Katef and targeted in Hifter's May 16 attack, is one of the biggest and most powerful militias in Benghazi.
The strikes come a day after an al-Qaida-inspired group called Ansar al-Shariah vowed to battle Hifter's forces and open the "doors of hell" if he continued his offensive. The group also warned the United States and Arab countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against supporting Hifter.
Ansar al-Shariah has been linked to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The State Department has recommended that Americans leave Libya immediately and warned U.S. citizens against any travel to the North African country. Meanwhile, USS Bataan has moved into the Mediterranean Sea and could be used, if needed, for any possible evacuation of American personnel from Libya, defense officials say.
Libya's army and police rely heavily on the country's myriad of militias, the heavily armed groups formed around ethnic identity, hometowns and religion. Bringing them under control has been one of the greatest challenges for Libya's successive interim governments after Gadhafi's downfall, one they largely failed at as militias have seized oil terminals and even kidnapped a former prime minister seemingly at will.