BENGHAZI, LIBYA— Gunmen shot dead Libya's military police force commander in the restive eastern city of Benghazi as he was about attend Friday prayers, a security source said, triggering a violent response from residents.
The attack is the latest blow to a weak Libyan government that is struggling to assert control over militias and radical Islamists two years after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.
Unknown gunmen opened fire on Ahmed al-Barghathi as he left his house to go to a mosque. “He was brought to hospital but later died there,” the source said.
Several army officers have been assassinated in Benghazi, where the U.S. ambassador was killed during an Islamist assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission a year ago. The shooting of Barghathi, who was on vacation in the city, is the highest profile attack there for weeks.
Several hours after the shooting, dozens of residents joined members of Barghathi's tribe in storming the house of prominent militia leader Wissam Ben Hamid, witnesses said. His house was set ablaze but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Some of the protesters accused Hamid, leader of the Libya Shield Brigade, of having a role in the killing of Barghathi, who had been trying to restore order in Benghazi and elsewhere.
Libya Shield, an umbrella of former rebels who say they are now allied to the defense ministry, was not immediately available for comment.
In June, at least 31 people were killed in clashes between the militia and armed protesters who demanded that the group disarm. Many ordinary Libyans are fed up with armed young men roaming the streets.
The government has been unable to disarm myriad militias and radical Islamists in a country awash with guns from the Gadhafi era and foreign weapons supplied in 2011 to help the Western-backed uprising.
Last week, former rebels briefly seized Prime Minister Ali Zeidan from the Tripoli hotel where he lives during a dawn raid, only to release him hours later.
The gunmen who snatched Zeidan — former anti-Gadhafi rebels now on the government payroll — said they were angry at reports the government had been informed in advance of a U.S. raid to capture an al-Qaida suspect in Libya. Zeidan called the kidnapping a coup attempt.
Zeidan, a liberal, has come under pressure for failing to improve public services since Gadhafi's overthrow and has faced a wave of strikes and protests that have closed most oil ports in the OPEC producer.